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GOP leaders reject Whitmer request to delay Medicaid rules

Posted: 7:56 AM, Dec 04, 2019
Updated: 2019-12-04 13:43:37-05
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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Republican legislative leaders on Tuesday quickly rejected Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s request to delay work-related requirements for adults who receive health insurance through Michigan’s Medicaid expansion program.

Whitmer said Monday that the GOP-controlled Legislature should suspend the rules that take effect in January, citing a recent legal challenge, and on Tuesday followed with a special message seeking the pause. She said the state has spent $28 million to implement the workforce engagement requirements and is on track to spend an additional $40 million this fiscal year — an unnecessary expense if a federal judge blocks the rules.

Whitmer said it will cost the Department of Health and Human Services $1 million to start sending letters no later than Monday telling about 200,000 of the 670,000 adults in the Healthy Michigan plan how to meet the rules that could be invalidated.

“The Legislature should do the right thing here and protect Michigan taxpayers while the courts determine legality,” Whitmer said in a written statement. “Then, we must work together to ensure affordable coverage for Michiganders everywhere.”

House Speaker Lee Chatfield of Levering and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake, however, said Michigan taxpayers expect able-bodied adults wanting cash assistance and subsidized health coverage to work part-time or at least prepare for a career.

“Out of respect for those taxpayers, we are not willing to pause our state’s new welfare work requirements,” they said in a joint statement. “These work requirements are also the right thing to do for people who need short-term help. Getting a job is the best way to become self-sufficient for a lifetime and escape poverty.”

Starting Jan. 1, abled-bodied adults ages 19 through 61 who want to maintain their benefits will have to show workforce engagement averaging 80 hours a month under a 2018 law — through work, school, job training or vocational training, an internship, substance abuse treatment or community service.

Though nine states have had Medicaid work requirement waivers approved by the Trump administration, Michigan would be the only state with rules in effect. A federal judge has blocked the requirements in Kentucky, Arkansas and New Hampshire; and two other states, Arizona and Indiana, have blocked enforcement or implementation — citing litigation.

Whitmer said in her message that Michigan’s money will have been wasted if courts ultimately stop the rules.

“Even if the courts block them only temporarily, we risk causing not only waste, but needless confusion for Michigan families who already have enough on their minds,” she wrote.

But Shirkey told reporters that Michigan’s requirements are “uniquely different” than in most other states, with “far broader” exemptions for recipients and reporting requirements that have been simplified. He noted that the 2013 state law that expanded Medicaid eligibility under the federal health overhaul has a provision ending the program if its costs exceed the savings.

“My hope is that we create enough churn to keep that from happening,” said Shirkey, who sponsored the law creating the work rules.

The Department of Health and Human Services disputed Shirkey’s contention that Michigan’s exemptions are more expansive than in many other states, saying they are actually narrower. Recipients, for example, will be able to be noncompliant for less time before losing coverage than in neighboring Indiana.

The Whitmer administration estimates between 61,000 and 183,000 Michigan residents may be dropped.