LePage gets approval for Medicaid work requirements

December 22, 2018

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Federal regulators on Friday approved Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to require certain Medicaid recipients to work or volunteer.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved his proposal to require able-bodied adults to be working, training for a new career or volunteering, according to a letter dated Friday released by LePage’s office.

About 270,000 residents receive MaineCare, most of them children, the elderly, people with disabilities and low-income parents. Welfare reform is a cornerstone of LePage’s administration, which has imposed work requirements for food stamps and successfully cut thousands of childless adults from MaineCare.

“We can help people by supporting and encouraging them to stand on their own — allowing them to take charge of their financial independence,” LePage said in a statement. “This approval is a big step forward for our state as it provides us the opportunity to continue expanding our available workforce and allows us to focus our resources on those individuals who need it most.”

The Trump administration this year signaled it would allow states to institute work requirements for Medicaid recipients — an unprecedented change to the half-century-old health care program for low-income people run by states. Maine’s approval marks the seventh state proposal approval, according to CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

LePage also proposed co-pays for non-emergency emergency room visits and allowing providers to charge for missed doctor’s appointments. LePage’s administration has said such adjustments may decrease enrollment.

“Ultimately, these proposals will result in people losing health care,” said Maine Equal Justice Partners Executive Director Robyn Merrill. Such opponents of Medicaid work requirements argue that it ignores the reality that many low-paid jobs don’t offer employee-sponsored health coverage.

“These proposals do nothing to help people work or get people to work,” she said.

Democratic Gov.-elect Janet Mills’ spokesman Scott Ogden said she’ll review the proposal once in office.

“As a general matter, the Gov.-elect supports programs that offer apprenticeships, vocational education, computer science, and other training initiatives to put people to work to fill available jobs, preferably by incentives instead of by bureaucratic mandates,” Ogden said in a statement. “Making sure people are healthy, of course, is a first step in making them eligible for work.”

Mills has also vowed to roll-out voter-approved Medicaid expansion, which LePage has blocked for months over his fiscal concerns.

LePage has said he considers Medicaid another form of welfare that will bankrupt his state. His plan to require certain recipients to work and pay premiums exempts those who prove they’re physically or mentally unable to work.

His administration has said the state will explore ways to help Medicaid enrollees prepare for and find jobs. New Hampshire, for example, refers Medicaid adults to job counseling services.

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