Waiver for Medicaid to require recipients to work or go to school to receive benefits

Waiver for Medicaid to require recipients to work or go to school to receive benefits

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Arizona has applied for a waiver from the Department of Health and Human Services that will allow the state to require Medicaid recipients to work or go to school in order to receive benefits.

It will be the first time a work requirement will be part of Medicaid Health Coverage.

Called AHCCS Works, it will require "able-bodied" adults between the ages of 19 and 55 who do not qualify for an exemption, to work at least 20 hours a week to become eligible for benefits. The exemptions and requirements follow a series of public hearings held in 2017.

The HHS has set a series of guidelines for the ten states which have applied for waivers, such as Arizona's.

Pima County has an estimated 289,000 Medicaid recipients, nearly one in four of its citizens.

Arizona was one of a series of state that expanded its Medicaid rolls under the Affordable Care Act. Now, some are concerned the new requirements may roll back some of those numbers.

"I think we need to create facilitators rather than barriers for their entry into care," said Dr. Francisco Garcia, the director of health for Pima County.

Garcia believes the new guidelines will act as an impediment which will discourage some people from getting health care and in turn they will rely more on emergency room care.

However, despite his concerns, he's willing to be open minded about it.

"I think the story is yet to be told," he said. "If it's a relatively small number of people, then it won't be as big a deal."

Still, the work requirement is a bit befuddling.

"A vast majority of them already work," he said.

That's echoed by Siman Qassim, the policy director for the Children's Action Network based in Phoenix.

"It's basically creating layers of government, confusion, bureaucracy that doesn't need to be there for people who are probably working anyway," she said.

A Kaiser Foundation study shows 63 percent of the adult Medicaid recipients work.

"And most of those who aren't are children, the handicapped, people like that," Garcia said.

He also believes the work requirement may be financially counter productive.

"Scholars have recommended against it," he said. "The cost of implementing work verification, education verification is actually, end costing more than you save by implementing it."

Which is the same conclusion reached by Qassim.

We know it's going to cost a lot of money to implement, it might even cost us state dollars.

"We know this is going to be  a pretty major overhaul of the entire system," she said. "AHCCS isn't designed to track people's work status and it's going to cost a lot of money to overhaul the system to ramp up this work requirement."

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