Robert Weissman: Medicaid Work Requirements: Cruel, Stupid and Illegal

Jan. 11, 2018 – Note: The Trump administration has proposed imposing work requirements on Medicaid recipients.

The Trump administration’s new policy of permitting states to impose work requirements for Medicaid eligibility is cruel, stupid and illegal.

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It is cruel because it not only denies the basic truth that health care is a right, it explicitly conditions access to health care on wealth. The work requirement will deny care to untold numbers of Americans. It will cause needless suffering and kill people – low-income people only.

It is stupid because it will actually prevent people from working – with health needs unattended, many low-income people will be unable to seek work. Even worse, it will undermine broad public health priorities. Medicaid plays a key role in the national response to the opioid epidemic, which the Trump administration has declared a public health emergency, for example. Imposing work requirements on Medicaid eligibility will directly worsen the epidemic.

It is illegal because it contravenes Medicaid’s purpose of providing medical assistance to low-income and vulnerable people. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma has condescendingly talked about combating the “soft bigotry” of low expectations for Medicaid recipients. What she is in fact doing is promoting the hard bigotry of animus against poor people – the hard and shameful bigotry of health care denial based on wealth.

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