Mary Rita calls on Gov. Rauner to Reject New Medicaid Work Requirement Option

Recent news reports indicated Governor Rauner is considering new federal guidance from President Trump that would allow states to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients. President Trump’s cruel new policy will allow states to take Medicaid away from people who can’t find job for the first time in the program’s 50-year history.

I call on Gov. Rauner to reject this mean-spirited attempt to stigmatize and ostracize the poorest residents of our state, the overwhelming majority of whom want to work and contribute to their families and communities. Their interest in Medicaid is to get the medical care they need, so they can, indeed, go to work. No one can get or keep a job until their diabetes, serious mental illness, substance use disorder, dental abscess, impaired vision or other typical condition is corrected.

We need also to see this for what it is: yet another attempt by Republicans to undermine the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare allowed states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover all those with incomes under 138 percent of the federal poverty level. In 2012, Illinois opted in and more than 500,000 Illinois adults with low incomes received their health insurance through Medicaid, many for the first time since they were children. If Illinois pursues this new option, many new Medicaid recipients will lose their health coverage.

As Protect our Care Illinois said in a statement today, “This is a radical shift in CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) policy that creates a hostile environment to government assistance with health coverage. Such a move creates numerous barriers to accessing care, penalizes individuals who have lost employment or have difficulty securing consistent employment by denying them health coverage, and undermines the purpose of Medicaid all together: assisting low-income people to obtain medical services.”

What is so cynical about these new Republican initiatives is that there is no evidence that a work requirement increases long-term employment, reduces poverty or promotes health. Moreover there is a substantial cost to the state to administer the new requirements. Additional staff, office space, computers, postage and electronic databases are among the costly items that are already in short supply in the state’s Medicaid and Human Service agencies.

Lastly, it is highly ironic that so many working Illinoisans qualify for Medicaid. They are on Medicaid because they have poverty-wage jobs that do not provide them with health insurance. A better way to reduce the number of people on Medicaid is for employers to pay a living wage and offer health care benefits or a plan through the ACA marketplace where federal subsides are available.

I am a staunch supporter of increasing Illinois’ minimum wage to a living wage of $15 per hour. And why is it that we still have a $8.25 minimum wage? Because Rauner vetoed the bipartisan bill that would have increased the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour during the next several years.

The purpose of Medicaid is to make our nation healthier. It’s hard to understand how reducing the number of Medicaid recipients and their access to health care would help achieve that purpose.

I call on the governor to publicly denounce this cynical federal maneuver.