GOP leaders: We won’t halt Michigan Medicaid work requirements

Democrats argue the work requirements will cause thousands to lose coverage, as has happened in other states that have implemented work requirements in order to receive coverage. Republicans argue the program will promote self-sufficiency and push people to enter the workforce.

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LANSING –  Michigan Republicans are rebuffing calls from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to postpone Medicaid work rules set to begin Jan. 1, amid a federal lawsuit challenging the policy. 

Next month, Michigan will require most of the state’s more than 650,000 Medicaid recipients to prove they’re working, in school, amid job training or doing other activities like looking for a job at least 80 hours per month to receive healthcare coverage under legislation that passed in 2018. Critics argue the policy is likely to cause tens of thousands of people to lose coverage; proponents say it will boost employment during a labor shortage. 

Whitmer told reporters she wants a delay on Monday, noting she doesn’t have the power to postpone implementation herself. House Democrats announced Tuesday afternoon they would introduce legislation to permanently remove the work requirements.

“I’m hopeful that Michigan will be wise and stay implementation of our work requirements,” Whitmer said. “We’ve seen that other states are taking that position because they’ve already seen how devastating it’s been to people’s lives.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield said Tuesday that’s out of the question. In a joint statement, they called the policy “common sense” that Michigan taxpayers “who foot the bill for these programs expect.”

“These work requirements are also the right thing to do for people who need short-term help,” the two said. “Getting a job is the best way to become self-sufficient for a lifetime and escape poverty. Pausing the program takes that away and pushes people deeper into dependency, unhealthy behaviors and long-term poverty.”

The policy, passed under Republican leadership in 2018, was approved by the Trump administration, which loosened guidelines and allowed states for the first time to require recipients to work to receive Medicaid benefits. 

The administration greenlighted similar plans in Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine and other states under the new policy. Nine others are still awaiting approval.  

Many of the approved states have faced legal disputes over work requirements, and a federal judge has struck down the policy in Kentucky, Arkansas and New Hampshire. Policymakers in Indiana and Arizona have suspended work rule policies as the lawsuits proceed. 

States that implemented their programs saw thousands of people lose coverage. That includes people who work regularly but may not meet monthly reporting requirements due to the volatility of low-wage jobs. Others were dropped because of difficulty reporting their hours due to unreliable internet and other challenges. Whitmer and the Legislature attempted to address that by extending the reporting window in September, though Whitmer maintained the policy was problematic and among the “most onerous” work requirements in the country. 

Other states “took the step a lot earlier than Michigan did [and] are feeling the consequences, so they voluntarily stopped implementing,” Whitmer said Monday. “The Legislature hasn’t had a chance to see firsthand how dramatic this is going to be for people. But I’m hopeful that we can avoid that.”

Speaking individually with reporters Tuesday, Shirkey said Michigan’s policy is “uniquely different” than other states, “so we’re going to let the process play out.” 

Michigan’s policy includes exemptions that “are far broader than most other states,” Shirkey said, excluding people who are medically frail, have disabilities, have children under 6, are pregnant, are receiving unemployment benefits or were recently incarcerated. That will exempt hundreds of thousands of people, he estimated. 

The work requirements have been a tug-of-war between Whitmer’s administration and the Legislature even before health care advocates challenged the law in court in November. Lawmakers left out of the budget $10 million intended to publicize the changes and hire staff to oversee the rollout. 

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon urged Whitmer to try to postpone implementation in any way she could. 

Days later, Whitmer restored more than $15 million to ease the transition to the new rules as part of a $625 million transfer between state departments that upset Republicans. Both Whitmer and Shirkey also argued their plans would save the state the most money. 

Whitmer said that the state has spent $28 million to date preparing for the requirements and will likely spend $40 million more in 2020, she said. If the court strikes down or blocks the work rules, as judges have in other states, that money will be wasted. 

Shirkey pointed to a requirement in the original Medicaid expansion law that would automatically stop the expansion if the state’s spending outpaced savings gained from the program. 

“So there’s a poison pill in [the] … statute,” he said. “My hope is that we create enough churn to keep that from happening… I don’t want to do that, I want to keep it in place.”

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Jerrie levering
Wed, 12/04/2019 - 8:26am

One again the republicans prove themselves to be mentally challenged. Is it their contention that those who receive Medicaid have the technical skills or the young age to do those jobs that are available in this state. those jobs require college degrees or years in vocational schools or apprentice programs. How can one group of individuals be so.....just plain stupid.

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 8:55am

Do nothing legislators demand work requirements! Hilarious.

Jim tomlinson
Wed, 12/04/2019 - 9:14am

Some parts of rural michigan are sp breft of job opportunities i don’t think the republicans understand or care about. Life is more complex. Republicans tend to be born into means

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 5:45pm

Nobody handed me what I have and nobody handed me the means I started at the bottom and worked my way to where I am today I had to start over 2 times when the companies restructured but I pulled myself up and kept pushing on, there are jobs out there people just have to be willing to humble themselves to doing what ever it takes (not expecting to start at the top) and bu the way yes I had a family to support during all of this!

Thu, 12/05/2019 - 10:24am

So you used absolutely NO state or federal help - ever? You drove on 'our' roads, educated in 'our' schools, received 'our' police and fire protection? And no employer who employed you received no federal or state assistance, tax cuts, etc.?

Tired of Stupid
Fri, 12/06/2019 - 8:57am

Rick, you didn't invent letters or the language you use to communicate. So until you personally pay the individual or group that invented language and letters, you should not be able to use them or communicate with them. You see the person you are shaming has paid taxes, the proof is in the fact that they did get a job and supported the system. Paying into those systems, that person is more than welcome to use those services if they are needed. You however, who lord over people with the insane, " you didn't build that", of the Obama era talking point, which is now being picked up by Elizabeth Warren, need to either pay for the language you use or just stop using it ok!

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 5:30pm

If you have ever talked to one who works in a doctors office, they will tell you that those on Medicaid harass the doctors looking for them to sign a disability statement so that they can collect, whatever that means. Given the way the law is written, there is no reason for any able bodied person not to work, train, or be part of community service, and there are exemptions for those unable to do any. It is only the unwilling that will be affected, and to the unwilling, I say it is about time.

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 8:22pm

I think you are right. It's about time . People think because they have children they can't work. Having children is not a disability. Ask any woman or man why they are working, and every single one of them will say I have kids. So again it's not a disability. You need to work to feed your kids and show your kids that you love them enough to work for them. And if you don't love your kids enough to go out every day and work to feed and clothe them, why should all the other working/tax paying people. We don't even know your kids. So, if you don't want to love and work for your kids don't have them. When did having kids become a paying job and with better benefits then someone who goes to work every day. Children live what they 've learned.

Fri, 12/06/2019 - 8:56am

What misfortune in your life caused you to become such an empty, callous ghoul?

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 6:44pm

one problem I see in Michigan with work. there are small towns here where there is no work, the closest work would be 20-30 miles away
or farther. will the government bus you to a job so that you can work? most poor people don't have adequate transportation to even get to a job 5 miles away let alone 30 or 45.

Sun, 12/08/2019 - 12:46pm

People used to move when there were no opportunities where they lived or better opportunies elsewhere. Grand Rapids is full of people whose grandparents moved from northern Mi or from the Netherlands for that matter. What has changed?

Mike Foster
Thu, 12/26/2019 - 10:29am

I am an independent voter in Michigan. Although I can, I refrain from voting in Michigan's primaries. I voted for Gov. Whitmer for governor. After her first year in office as governor, I question what she has accomplished. I find two of her promises to voters of 1)fixing the roads, and 2)ending taxes on retirement pensions have not been accomplished.
1)I questioned and disliked the 45 cent gas tax she proposed in a state dependent upon automobiles. If she wanted a dramatic fuel tax increase, what tax relief did she propose or negotiate for consumers, businesses, manufacturers who would invest in automobiles using other fuels or would invest in other kinds of transportation? 2)She a Democrat wanted and a Republican legislator proposed in January, 2019 a resolution to end the present pension tax on seniors. At this time that pension tax passed in 2011 is still required.
When the time comes for election of Michigan's governor, I'll be looking for alternative candidates if the Governor does not work with colleagues to accomplish her goals of fixing the roads and eliminating pension tax.