Missing the Mark in Medicaid

When it comes to welfare, state government asks the wrong question. That’s the premise of Rep. Kerry Benninghoff’s views on welfare reform in the latest Brews and Views podcast.

Starting around minute 38, the House Majority Policy Committee Chair notes that instead of asking, “What job can we help you find?” our programs focus on physical needs at a moment in time. He explains how this short-sighted mentality creates a destructive cycle of poverty and turns programs designed to be temporary bridges into a source of long-term underemployment.

That, in a nutshell, is what’s happening to Medicaid. A program created to help those most in need has turned into a ill-suited substitute for a fulfilling career. With more than half of Pennsylvania’s healthy Medicaid expansion population not working, a declining labor force, and a Medicaid budget set to grow by $2 billion, it is time for a significant change.

It's already happening in other states. The federal government has approved three requests to create part-time requirements for healthy adults on Medicaid. Asking healthy adults to spend 20 hours a week working, going to school, or volunteering will help people gain the skills and experience they need to find full-time employment and give back to their community.

Arkansas’s request to tailor its Medicaid program, which was approved just last week, establishes the same requirements discussed above. Notably, the federal government did not allow Arkansas to shrink their Medicaid expansion eligibility from 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level to 100 percent. (Arkansas’s Medicaid program did not cover low-income healthy adults before the Affordable Care Act.)

The General Assembly attempted to begin a similiar process last fall with House Bill 59. But Governor Wolf rejected the legislation, which was designed to create work and community engagement requirements for Pennsylvania Medicaid recipients.

Fortunately, Rep. Benninghoff and state lawmakers have another opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to ensuring Pennsylvanians are independent and self-sufficent by once again advancing legislation for a Medicaid waiver to boost employment and direct more scarce resources to the disabled, those with intellectual disabilities, and the elderly.

Pennsylvanians have a moral obligation to fix the Medicaid program. As Rep. Benninghoff put it, “Why should you have able-bodied people that aren’t willing to get a job [on Medicaid] when other people work to the age of 60, 65, 70 to subsidize them?” There is nothing fair or moral about that.