Local politicos react to policy that would allow work requirement for Medicaid benefits

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Hundreds of thousands of Louisiana resident count on Medicaid, the federal and state government funded health coverage program. Now the Trump administration says it will allow states to attach work requirements to the program for some recipients, and Ddemocratic Gov. John Bel Edwards is on board with the idea.

Some local state legislators and a health advocacy group reacted soon after the announcement from Washington.

"I think the key is able-bodied. Remember that these programs were established as social safety nets," said Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a letter to state Medicaid directors spelling out guidance for states wanting to make work, or community engagement including job training and community service, a requirement for Medicaid eligibility for non-elderly, non-pregnant adults without disabilities.

The Edwards administration is already working toward that end.

A statement was issued by the governor on the issue:

"Upon taking the oath of office, my first order of business was to expand Medicaid in Louisiana and increase access to health care for hundreds of thousands of our citizens," said Gov. Edwards.  "More than 457 thousand Louisianans now have coverage that is providing life-saving health care. Additionally, there have been more than 150 thousand preventive visits resulting in the early diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening diseases like cancer, hypertension, and diabetes, and we've accomplished all of this while saving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

"I've always believed that a healthier workforce is essential for Louisiana's economic growth. Medicaid Expansion is a huge step to improving the productivity of our workforce. Yet, we must remember that Medicaid expansion is a program that helps the working poor – a lifeline for the more than two-thirds of Louisianans who are already employed but are not earning enough to afford health insurance.   Of those who are not working, many are either in school or caring for family members; others are too ill or disabled to work and need the quality health care Medicaid provides to help them re-enter the workforce.  For those who are not currently working but are able and eligible to work, we must find reasonable ways to ensure they too benefit from the dignity of being employed.

"I have always supported smart solutions to increase skills and encourage engagement through work, volunteering, or training. For several months now my administration has been working to develop work, volunteer and educational engagement components for our Healthy Louisiana program. With this new guidance from CMS, we will continue developing a Louisiana-specific program for our Medicaid program as we go forward."

"I think this is a chance to say to those taxpayers that your money is being put to good use. These folks who can work, and I use that word very carefully, either take advantage of the opportunity to look for a job, to get an education or to do community service. I think that's a reasonable exchange," said Sen. Appel.

But a democratic state senator from New Orleans strongly opposes the idea.

"To have a situation whereby you would basically try to limit the amount of individuals that would be covered I think is both mean-spirited and ill-conceived," said Sen. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans.

Health care advocates said the majority of Medicaid beneficiaries already are employed.

"The reality is that most people are already working, so you're looking at about 80 percent of people who are on the Medicaid program are in a household with at least one worker. You're looking at about 60 percent of people already work on Medicaid," said Susan Todd, Executive Director of 504 HealthNet, a health advocacy organization.

She said there are other more effective ways to put more people to work, and added that Medicaid saves taxpayers in the long run by keeping more of the low-income population out of hospital emergency rooms.

"So if you have someone who has a mental illness, maybe it's just depression but without that medication and that therapist they can't stay working, you know, they fall into deeper depression, then they can't work, they fall into disability," said Todd.

"In the state of Louisiana we should not be doing that and I for one will not be supporting that," said Bishop.

"If they don't take the opportunity to look for a job, to get an education, to get some kind of additional education or to do community service then they're not doing what the generosity of the American people is intended for," added Appel.

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