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Post-Election, Virginia Dodges Medicaid Work Requirements
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Post-Election, Virginia Dodges Medicaid Work Requirements

Virginia residents with Medicaid will not be required to work in order to keep their policies since Gov. Ralph Northam halted the work requirements he previously agreed to implement nearly two years ago as a bipartisan agreement.

House Republicans said in a statement that the previous agreement was made in “good faith” and Northam gave his “personal assurance” to implement Medicaid expansion with a work requirement, where most Medicaid recipients would have to work a certain number of hours each month to keep their coverage.

“Broken promises like this are the reason so many people hate politics,” Del Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said in the statement.

Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science and director of the University of Mary Washington’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies, said that moving forward, Republicans have “little ability” to retain the previous agreement from a couple years ago.

“This is an example of how elections have consequences,” Farnsworth said. “The new Democratic majorities taking office next month have little interest in the work requirement as a condition for Medicaid expansion and seem very likely to abandon that provision in the next session.”

In 2019, Virginia expanded eligibility for health coverage to 400,000 people. So far, 342,000 Virginians have signed up for health insurance coverage through Medicaid expansion. Work requirements for Medicaid could lead to between 26,800 and 74,000 people losing their health insurance coverage, according to The Commonwealth Institute.

The work requirements previously agreed on would apply to able-bodied Medicaid recipients who would need to work and pay premiums. For the first three months, enrollees would start with a work requirement of 20 hours per month. The workload would have increased to 80 hours per month after a person was enrolled for 12 months, according to the amended budget.

“In order to work, you have to be healthy, so work requirements for Medicaid expansion make no sense at all,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, in a press release. “We’re thrilled that Democrats are taking steps to halt the implementation of punitive work requirements to qualify for Medicaid Expansion and we hope that it means even more people will be able to benefit from the program.”

Arkansas was the first state to implement a work reporting requirement for Medicaid. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities concluded that 18,164 people lost coverage within the first seven months of the program and approximately 23% of all people subject to work requirements lost coverage. There is no evidence that work reporting requirements led to any major increase in work participation or hours worked, the study found. The policy is no longer being enforced in Arkansas, due to a recent court decision.

Ashleigh Crocker, communications director for Progress Virginia, thinks it doesn’t make sense to implement the plan.

“The vast majority of people who get insurance coverage through Medicaid are already working,” Crocker said.