Mississippi may impose work requirements on Medicaid beneficiaries

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The Trump administration Thursday announced it would allow states to impose work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries, a major policy shift that could have significant implications for low-income beneficiaries in the program.

Seema Verma, the administrator for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said she was responding to requests from Medicaid officials in 10 states that want to run demonstration projects testing requirements for work or other types of community engagement such as training, education, job search, volunteer activities and care giving, according to an article Thursday in the New York Times.

Those 10 states are Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin.

Mississippi also requested a waiver for work requirements in December, the state Division of Medicaid confirmed Thursday. That request is currently pending with the federal centers.

In his State of the State speech Tuesday, Gov. Phil Bryant touted the move as potentially helping the population of Mississippi.

“I have requested a workforce requirement for able-bodied adults from the Center of Medicaid and Medicare Services. This is not, as some would have you believe, a punitive action aimed at recipients. It will actually help this population reap the rewards of a good job, and one day receive health care coverage from their employer, not the state or federal government,” Bryant said.

Implementing a workforce requirement would effectively remove an entire category of beneficiaries from the Medicaid rolls. More than 700,000 Mississippians receive Medicaid. Of these, approximately 56 percent are children. Another 37 percent are either pregnant women, elderly or disabled. None of these populations would be affected by the work requirement.

Instead, the work requirement would affect low-income parents or caretakers, who account for 7 percent of Medicaid recipients. This equates to approximately 50,000 beneficiaries, although caretakers responsible for children or other people who cannot be left alone would be exempted, reducing the number further.

In order to qualify for Medicaid in Mississippi as a low-income caretaker, a person with one dependent cannot receive more than $306 per month in income. The waiver would require beneficiaries in this category to work at least 20 hours a week. A minimum wage of $7.25 an hour equals $580 a month, making these recipients ineligible. If recipients don’t work, they will also lose eligibility status.