Our View: Reforms like Arizona’s work requirement can help sustain Medicaid

January 29, 2019

Like most government assistance program, Arizona’s Medicaid program was never intended to be a permanent solution. And yet, thousands of able-bodied Arizonans are receiving free AHCCCS benefits with no real incentive to do anything else.

That changes on Jan. 1, 2020.

Earlier this month, the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved Arizona’s request to require some people enrolled in AHCCCS to work, attend school or volunteer for a minimum of 80 hours per month.

Those who don’t comply will lose their benefits for two months.

It’s a strict policy, but a necessary one. Arizona has 1.9 million people enrolled in AHCCCS, and state officials say 126,000 of them should be working, or at least looking for jobs. (And in this economy, with just 4.8 percent unemployment in Arizona, finding a job shouldn’t be difficult.)

Critics say the requirements could shut some people out of health care, such as adults who are caregivers for disabled children or elderly relatives, or people with felonies who have trouble getting jobs, or people with untreated mental illness.

We won’t argue that there’s not going to be some fine tuning that’ll have to come once the rules are in place, but thankfully, Arizona’s proposal gave some thoughtful consideration to some of those populations after initial criticism. The rules come with a host of exceptions, ranging from people with disabilities and women who are pregnant or have given birth in the last 60 days.

Tribal members are also excluded.

The bottom line is Medicaid is a safety net, and we’re glad it’s there for people who need it. However, some folks are treating it more like a hammock and they need to be rocked into financial independence. Indeed, the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank based in Phoenix, calls Medicaid a poverty trap for some people who purposefully avoid work to keep their free health care. That has to change.

Reforms like Arizona’s can help sustain Medicare’s overall viability.

— Today’s News-Herald

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