On April 16th the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted to pass House Bill 2138 providing work requirements as a condition of receiving Medical Assistance (Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program). This bill is one of several currently making their way through the Pennsylvania legislature that would detrimentally affect low-income families and children, cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars to implement, and generally serve no valid public interest other than to deter individuals who need life saving benefits from getting them.
House Bill 2138 mandates that Medical Assistance enrollees must work 20 hours per week or complete twelve “job training program-related activities” per month in order to maintain the benefit. Individuals who fail to comply with this requirement will lose their eligibility for three months initially, then six months, and then nine months. Individuals who are 19 years and older must verify compliance with the work requirements on a biannual basis and by request from the State. Furthermore, the State can delay enrollment if the individual is found to have failed to comply with these requirements.
Certain populations are exempt from the work requirements including: full-time high school students; individuals receiving temporary or long-term disability benefits; individuals under 18 years of age and 65 and over; pregnant women; individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI); primary caregivers for dependents six years of age or younger; and primary caregivers for individuals who are permanently disabled or in hospice care. Additionally, individuals who are experiencing a crisis, serious medical condition, or temporary condition that prevents the enrollee from actively seeking employment, including domestic violence and substance use disorder, are exempt.
The process in which individuals seeking exemption must participate in, including paperwork and verification requirements, is unclear based on the bill alone; however, the current Secretary of Human Services, Teresa Miller, reported that it would cost $650 million and an additional 300 staff members to enact these changes in her department. Now that the bill has passed the House, it moves on to the Pennsylvania Senate for a vote.
Policy experts find that work requirements harm families and individuals who are already working the most. Moreover, work requirements rarely lead to additional employment, but often lead to disenrollment, stripping vulnerable individuals of critical benefits and services. One study found, “four to five years after such requirements were implemented, about 70 percent of the welfare recipients who went off welfare because of work requirements had no income, or had income at or below 50 percent of the poverty line.”
Since the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) changed its policy on work requirements in January 2018, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Indiana have had Medicaid waivers approved that include work requirements. Pennsylvania is among several other states in the process of establishing a pathway for work requirements.
It is critical that Pennsylvania residents and residents of other states seeking to implement these changes reach out to their elected officials urging them to stop their assault on poor families. The Pennsylvania Health Access Network has an easy form to find your State Senator and submit a letter urging her or him to vote NO on work requirements.
*This article was cross-posted on www.publichealthesq.com.