Unable to eliminate the Affordable Care Act in 2017, the Trump administration has embarked on a piecemeal approach to what appears to be an ongoing push to accomplish this goal. The latest attempt involves a recommendation that Medicaid recipients meet work requirements to qualify for basic healthcare services.
This radical policy shift, triggered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), sanctions states that want to force Medicaid recipients to work or take part in job-training programs in order to meet their or their children’s healthcare needs. In the richest country in the world, it’s disturbing that we are placing conditions on healthcare and making it harder for poor people to take care of themselves and their families.
The unorthodox policy, which is being touted by CMS Administrator Seema Verma and other conservatives, erects a cruel barrier to health care for people who already are struggling to survive.
In a recent speech to state Medicaid directors, Verma implied that today’s “able-bodied” Medicaid recipients need tough love to help them stand on their own two feet and stop depending on the government for help. But the corporations who recently benefitted from the GOP’s massive tax giveaway weren’t required to stand on their own two feet. The notion of “standing on your own two feet” only applies when discussing who receives welfare assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program or food stamps through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.
This reminds me of Matthew 9:20-22, which recounts the woman with the issue of blood, who seems fine on the outside but is suffering internally. Verma has no idea why people who appear to be OK need health insurance and can’t afford it. Jesus did not let that woman suffer. We should apply this same principle to those struggling today.
In 2017, about 3.2 million additional U.S. residents lost their health care benefits, and the uninsured rate rose the most among young adults, Black and Latino people as well as those with low incomes, according to a Gallup-Sharecare poll.
Nonetheless, some states are considering these proposed changes to Medicaid, an essential source of health coverage for 74 million people.
Everyone deserves to have their basic needs for food, shelter and health care met without contending with the machinations of a partisan political class that abhors the poor. Forcing vulnerable families to look for work before they can take their children to the doctor or receive a prescription for a potentially life-threatening medical condition is morally indefensible.
Verma has blamed President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act for boosting the number of people eligible for Medicaid benefits. But it’s the responsibility of all elected officials to ensure a basic standard of care for persons doing all they can to survive. Moreover, many adults currently receiving Medicaid benefits do work. They hold low-wage jobs that don’t pay enough for them to afford health insurance. They scrape by on paltry wages that force many to hold two or three jobs to make ends meet. The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 per hour since July 2009.
Thankfully, Medicaid recipients and their allies are fighting back. CMS approved a proposal from the state of Kentucky, which prompted opponents to file a class-action lawsuit in January. Other states considering similar proposals include Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, South Carolina and South Dakota.
Expect more lawsuits as well as more pushback from progressive coalitions dedicated to protecting our families.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster is the Political Director of PICO National Network, the largest grassroots, faith-based organizing network in the United States. PICO works with 1,000 religious congregations in more than 200 regions through its 45 local and state federations.