Desperate to distract voters from their lawsuit to end the Affordable Care Act and its protections for pre-existing conditions, Republican gubernatorial candidates are trying to whitewash their records by running for office as champions of Medicaid.
Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt is promising to reform Medicaid to “ensure that the program is strong and available to those who need it.” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is vowing to “make it better.” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is pledging to “make (Medicaid) more accountable and sustainable in the long run.”
While these phrases may seem reasonable at first glance, they’re nothing more than highly poll-tested language designed to pull the wool over the eyes of voters and gloss over the real vision: to upend Medicaid by using work requirements to strip coverage from those who need it most.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration gave the green light to states to impose work requirements on enrollees who qualified for Medicaid expansion under the ACA. In June, Arkansas became the first state in the country to implement these new restrictions on a segment of its expansion population. New data released by the state last month shows that the policy has led to significant coverage losses among the most low-income Arkansans.
New states adopting these onerous requirements would undoubtedly lead to similar additional coverage losses and retreat from the substantial progress the country has made in reducing the number of uninsured Americans.
Work requirements do not just hurt those individuals who lose coverage but also the state imposing them, by forcing states to bankroll millions in tax payer-funded expenses to create new government bureaucracies and verify enrollee’s information. This means states will have less money for the essential services working families need to thrive, like public education, transportation and infrastructure. Furthermore, coverage losses will also result in greater uncompensated care, putting additional strain on hospitals and increasing costs for consumers who will be forced to pick up the tab.
Every candidate wants to help their state’s residents find work, but if proponents of work requirements really wanted to help connect Medicaid-eligible individuals to work, they would create more opportunities by investing in job training, helping families better afford child care, making changes to better align work and school days, and adopting paid-leave programs that help workers care for themselves or family in times of need — not threatening the health and financial security of the most low-income in our society by taking away their health care coverage.
Democratic gubernatorial candidates are offering voters a dramatically different vision. Former Michigan Senate leader Gretchen Whitmer wants to establish a reinsurance program and use the program’s associated cost savings to expand Medicaid to even more Michiganders. Fred Hubbell in Iowa wants to reverse the state’s failed experiment with privatizing Medicaid; a recent report in just the first year of the state’s move to managed care found that rate of cost increases per Medicaid enrollee were triple the rate prior to privatization — diverting state funds from other critical efforts, like boosting teacher pay. Others, like Ned Lamont of Connecticut, would lower costs for consumers by allowing residents to “buy-in” to the state’s Medicaid program.
While we have much more to do, the progress made on health care has made a tangible difference in people’s lives. We can’t turn back the clock and cause the number of uninsured to spiral — especially in the middle of an opioid epidemic that Medicaid expansion has played a crucial role in combatting. Americans shouldn’t fall for the veiled sales pitch they are getting from Republican gubernatorial candidates on health care.
Colin Seeberger is an associate director for media relations at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.