Work necessities would have an effect on 1 in 20 Ohio Medicaid recipients

Catherine Candisky The Columbus Dispatch

About one in 20 low-income Ohioans who gained tax-funded health insurance through Ohio‘s Medicaid expansion will need to find a job or face the loss of coverage under proposed new work requirements.

Most Medicaid enrollees, state officials say, already have a job or would not be required to work due to age, chronic conditions or other exemptions.

State Medicaid officials on Friday released details of Ohio‘s request to federal regulators to require most non-disabled adults on Medicaid to work or risk losing health insurance.

Greg Moody, director of Gov. John Kasich‘s Office of Health Transformation, said most of the 700,000 who gained Medicaid coverage through an expansion are working. And, most of those who are not would be exempt from the requirement, he said.

“The data shows clearly that (those not working are) a lot of folks over age 55 or folks with chronic conditions and not affected by work requirements,” he said.

The remaining 5 percent — about 36,000 enrollees — will need to find a job or face loss of coverage.

Critics slammed the plan, arguing it would take health care away from vulnerable Ohioans.

“This would take Ohio in the wrong direction by making it a state with even greater health problems and health disparities,” said Steve Wagner, executive director of UHCAN Ohio. “Many people would be unable to keep their health care because of bureaucratic red tape.”

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, said similar work requirements for food stamps has done little to help people find employment.

“Instead, nearly 350,000 fewer Ohioans are receiving food stamps today. Yet hunger and food insecurity have increased in this population, and demand for emergency food assistance at foodbanks, food pantries and soup kitchens has skyrocketed,” she said. “How can anyone focus on work if they‘re hungry and in poor health?”

At the direction of the Republican-controlled legislature, Ohio will be the 12th state to seek to impose the controversial work policy. President Donald Trump‘s administration has given the OK to two states so far, Kentucky and Indiana.

Ohio‘s request will be submitted to the the U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services for approval following a required 30-day public comment period which ends March 18. Public hearings will conducted Feb. 21 in Cincinnati and March 1 in Columbus.

Under the plan, the roughly 700,000 adults who gained coverage under Ohio‘s 2014 expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act would be required to work at least 20 hours a week or show they are looking for a job, attending school or in job training.

New enrollees would have to meet the requirement to receive benefits and current enrollees must do so during their annual eligibility review.

As prescribed by lawmakers, the state would exempt those who are over age 55, in treatment for drug or alcohol addiction, have intensive health-care needs or serious mental illness, as well as parents and caretakers.

“I think it‘s fair,” Moody said. “We tried not to be punitive.”

According to a notice about the waiver request release Friday, expenditures for the Medicaid expansion enrollees would drop a projected $30 million the first year after work requirements are imposed.

Medicaid is a tax-funded health-insurance program covering 3 million the poor and disabled Ohioans, with federal dollars covering more than 90 percent for the expansion of health care.

Lingering opposition from conservatives over expanding coverage to those adults ages 19 to 64 without dependent children prompted majority Republicans to direct the Kasich administration to seek the federal OK to impose work requirements.

Also Friday, the Ohio Department of Insurance announced it would seek permission from federal regulators to waive the Affordable Care Act‘s individual mandate which requires most Americans to have health insurance.

Department of Insurance Director Jillian Froment said there would be no impact on consumers because the tax bill passed in December by Congress eliminated the tax penalties charged to those who failed to get health insurance. Ohio is merely asking for the actual requirement to be removed as well, she said.


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