Work requirements are necessary to discourage Medicaid abuse


Ever since the Trump administration signaled its openness to work requirements for able-bodied Medicaid recipients earlier this year, the onslaught from liberal groups has been fierce. Supporters of work requirements have been characterized as stingy and callous.

Governor LePage has been relentlessly attacked for his support of the idea.

But if you cut through the rhetoric and examine the issue thoughtfully, you’re tempted to wonder what the fuss is about. Here are a few facts to remember regarding this debate.

The number of non-working, able-bodied Medicaid recipients has exploded since Obamacare’s passage, to the detriment of the truly needy

Based on an analysis of data from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Foundation for Government Accountability estimates that 6.8 million of the 12.4 million Medicaid enrollees who have gained coverage thanks to Obamacare are not working at all. While these able-bodied adults benefit from free health care, nearly 650,000 disabled and elderly individuals languish on Medicaid waiting lists.

The labor market effects of work requirements are overwhelmingly beneficial

The best antidote to poverty is a job. Research has shown that work requirements in other welfare programs have led large numbers of able-bodied adults to enter the labor force and, on average, double their income.

After Congress included a work requirement in its sweeping reform of welfare in 1996, labor force participation dramatically increased among welfare recipients. In particular, the labor force participation rate of single mothers (the demographic group most targeted by the reforms) jumped from 66 percent in 1993 to an all-time high of 79 percent in 2000 and their poverty rate dropped to an all-time low of 33 percent.

The efficacy of work requirements has been demonstrated right here in Maine. Gov. LePage’s decision in 2014 to impose work requirements on food stamp recipients led to a sharp reduction in government dependency and a surge in wage earnings.

The work requirements being considered are far from draconian

To hear liberals describe work requirements, you’d think they compel Medicaid recipients to work 80 hour weeks with no bathroom breaks.

The reality, of course, is quite different. The work requirements contemplated by the LePage administration would only require 20 hours of work per week (averaged monthly) — paid employment, volunteer community service, and enrollment as a student would all satisfy this requirement, giving recipients extraordinary flexibility.

On top of that, the work requirement would only apply to certain non-elderly adults. Those suffering from a disability or struggling with a serious health condition (including drug addiction) would be exempt, as would pregnant mothers and caregivers of young children and incapacitated adults.

Furthermore, if a MaineCare recipient fails to comply with the work requirements, DHHS makes a determination — based on all available evidence — of whether good cause exists. This process allows those in exceptional circumstances who are unable to work but may not fall into an exempt category to retain their health coverage.

There is nothing to be afraid of with work requirements for able-bodied Medicaid recipients. It is a common sense policy intended to prioritize resources for the truly needy.