Health Affairs blog published an article recently about the early experience of Medicaid recipients in Arkansas after that state implemented a work requirement in June.
Last month, I wrote an article that reported that work requirements for Medicaid worsen health.
The author of the Health Affairs article, Dr. Jessica Greene, is a Professor and the Luciano Chair of Health Care Policy at Baruch College, City University of New York. She conducted in-depth interviews with 18 adult Medicaid recipients in northeast Arkansas in mid-August.
Dr. Greene admits that the interviews are too small a group to provide generalizable results, the interviews do illustrate how the state’s policy is interacting with the day-to-day lives of Medicaid recipients to produce serious potential consequences that have little to do with policy’s stated objectives.
She outlined the results of her interviews as follows:
Lack Of Awareness
Two thirds of the Medicaid recipients (12/18) I interviewed had not heard anything about the new work requirement. “First time I’ve ever heard anything [about it],” a 31-year old man, who had started a vocational training program the day we spoke, said. “You’d think it’d be on the news or something. I ain’t seen it on the news, and I watch Channel 8 news every night.”
At Risk Of Losing Coverage
Of the nine people who, based on their age, should have received a DHS letter letting them know they were subject to the work requirement, four said they had received a letter. Two said the letters indicated they were exempt because they already met the SNAP work requirement.
The other two were at risk for losing Medicaid coverage. One, a 47-year old woman, said she had received her letter about three months earlier; she believed, incorrectly, that she had three months to report her hours. When I asked her if reporting her hours was an obstacle, she said she was struggling with very stressful life issues, including a mentally ill sister, and as a result the work requirement had not received much of her attention. The other person, a 40-year-old woman, described being overwhelmed by receiving the letter: “Basically… I’m like, okay, I’ve got this letter. I file it and I don’t know what to do with it…”
The other five who should have received a work requirement letter were either not sure if the letter arrived or thought it had not. When asked about receiving a DHS letter, a 42-year-old woman said, “I don’t know, I’m going to have to check and make sure [I didn’t receive the letter], because I need my Medicaid card for my sugar pill and my blood pressure pills.” A 46-year-old man, who had recently completed an inpatient drug treatment program, kicking a multi-decade drug addiction, wasn’t sure either. “I may have [received the letter]…I’m horrible about opening mail….I probably throw’d it away.” While the three others did not believe they received the letter, they were all exempt by either working and/or having children in the home, but likely needed to report their hours and exemptions in the portal to maintain Medicaid coverage.
Policy Not Sparking Work-Related Changes
Of the nine participants who were likely subject to the policy, only two were not meeting the 80 hour work-related activity requirement and did not seem to qualify for an exemption. Both told me that they were actively seeking work, and that the work requirement had not at all impacted their job seeking. In addition, those I interviewed between the ages of 19-29, who will be subject to the policy in 2019, either worked, went to school, and/or had children under 18 years old in the home. No one I spoke with reported that the policy had or would spark them to change their work-related activities.
Online Portal Challenging For Many
Participants described a very wide range of computer and online skills and access. Approximately a third said that reporting hours on the online portal would not be possible for them: “I can’t do that. I don’t have a phone. I don’t have a computer.”
Several, who were confident of their own skills, mentioned family members who would struggle. “Half my family probably doesn’t have a smart phone….A lot of people here don’t have internet still,” a 19-year old woman explained.
Mixed Attitudes About Linking Medicaid And Work-Related Activities
Almost all the participants believed that people who could work should be working. “I believe if you are able to work and you want the extra help that Medicaid gives, then you should work,” said a 28-year old woman who was currently working and has young children. But several expressed concern about those who had mental or physical conditions that would prevent them from meeting the requirement. One man raised questions about people who were “borderline” who were not officially considered disabled but still had serious health conditions. A 42-year-old woman, who works with people with disabilities said, “I think it’ll do more harm than good…. What they supposed to do, just get cut off Medicaid because they can’t meet those requirements?”
Others raised concerns about transportation needed to get to work and volunteering. “Some people don’t have vehicles, and sometimes it’s not necessarily their fault. Sometimes something happens and they lose their money… It’s not fair,” said a 21-year old recipient who is a college student. When I asked a woman who was looking for work whether she had tried to get help from the Department of Workforce Services, she said that she couldn’t get there because it was 30 miles away and there is no public transportation.
Not Going To Lift People Out Of Poverty
Participants were very skeptical about the Governor’s claim that the work requirement policy would help them out of poverty, as many were already working and still struggling financially.
One participant argued that the policy was not about getting people to work at all, but about reducing the number of Medicaid recipients: “It seems like a ploy for the state to save money. That’s all it is. It’s nothing about trying to get people back to work…”
Of the people I interviewed who were at risk of losing Medicaid coverage as a result of the work requirement, most were at risk because they lacked awareness of the policy or were overwhelmed by it, rather than because they were not meeting the 80 hours a month of work-related activities or the terms of an exemption. If this is true more broadly, the state will be ending people’s health coverage for the wrong reasons, adding credence to those who argue this policy is about reducing the rolls, rather than supporting people to get employment.
A 38-year-old woman who recently had to quit her job to get her niece, who she mothers, a birth certificate and other paperwork to start school argued that the policy does not take into account the complex lives of low-income people. “You are saying this should be possible, but you don’t know my circumstances. You haven’t been here,” she explained.
Given this limited, but anecdotal survey of the experience of 18 Medicaid recipients, it is clear that this idea is not rooted in any realistic and scientific study of how work requirements will affect Medicaid recipients, but rather is another way of getting people off the roles and moving towards eliminating Medicaid altogether, which is precisely what the Republican Party has been trying to do for decades. The war on the poor continues.