Business advocates in Lansing say legislation to add work requirements for able-bodied Medicaid recipients could offer a boost to the labor pool in Michigan during times of low unemployment.
Under a bill the state Senate passed this week, adult Medicaid enrollees who can work would have to put in an average of 29 hours per week over a month at a job or other qualified activities such as job training or education. If an enrollee fails to meet the requirement or report family income to the state, they could lose Medicaid benefits for a year.
The bill, if passed by the state House, would authorize the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to seek a federal waiver to implement work requirements to receive medical benefits under Medicaid.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, comes amid low unemployment and tight labor markets across the state.
“At a time when businesses in Michigan are struggling to find workers, it is a ‘win-win’ policy to encourage those who can work to enter the job market and help fill the gap,” said Charles Owens, director of the Michigan office of the National Federation of Independent Businesses. “Requiring able-bodied Medicaid recipients to maintain a presence in the work force will encourage a work ethic that will benefit them and employers in the long run.”
Wendy Blok, senior director of health policy, human resources and business advocacy for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, cited research that indicates as many as 100,000 job openings exist across the state.
A Medicaid work requirement could help to fill those jobs and narrow the talent gap, Blok said.
“The Chamber believes Medicaid work requirements, modeled after what has been required under the Unemployment Insurance system since the 1930s, could help employers with their labor shortages and create a pathway for independence for enrollees,” Blok said.
The state Senate passed the bill Wednesday on a 26-11 vote and sent it to the House for consideration.
During a committee hearing the same day, some parties that objected to the bill as proposed urged legislators to cut the some requirement back to 20 hours per work and to make allowances for seasonal workers whose hours fluctuate greatly throughout the year.
A representative for the Michigan Health & Hospital Association also worried that the legislation could cause people to lose medical benefits through “bureaucratic requirements,” even if they still qualify for Medicaid.
“A person who is truly compliant with the work or training requirements could still lose benefits if that person failed to demonstrate compliance through a state website or other verification system,” Chris Mitchell, the MHA’s senior vice president for advocacy, wrote in testimony submitted to the Senate Committee on Michigan Competitiveness. “This includes notifying the state of a change in family income even in the income is lower. People who are working 29 hours or more per week, at an income level below 133 percent of the federal poverty level, should not lose their health care because of bureaucratic requirements.”
Objections to the legislation also come from Gov. Rick Snyder, according to a report this week in the Detroit Free Press. The governor’s spokesman Ari Adler, told the Free Press that the proposal “is neither a reasonable nor responsible change to the state’s social safety net.”
“We should not jeopardize the success of Healthy Michigan, which has helped hundreds of thousands of Michiganders who no longer have to choose between taking care of their health or paying their bills. Gov. Snyder will continue to collaborate with his legislative partners to see if this legislation can be improved before it comes to his desk for consideration,” he said.
About 1 million non-disabled Michigan residents are enrolled in Medicaid, 690,000 through the Healthy Michigan Plan created in 2014 when the state expanded Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. Another 300,000 people receive temporary assistance for needy families. Overall, about 2 million people, both disabled and non-disabled, in Michigan are on Medicaid.
The legislation approved by the state Senate would create exemptions to the work requirement for caretakers of family members younger than 6 years old or for people who are caring for someone who’s incapacitated. It also has exemptions for people receiving temporary or long-term disability benefits, people with a medical condition that limits their ability to work, and people on unemployment or who were incarcerated in the last six months.
Medicaid recipients under 21 who were placed in foster care by the state would also be exempted.