CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s Legislature is considering joining a handful of states that have work requirements for people on Medicaid.
The House Finance Committee took up the issue Wednesday afternoon as a bill originating from the committee, meaning that few observers were up to speed on the ins and outs prior to its introduction.
The Legislature has already passed the deadline for individual members to introduce bills, and the end of this week marks a deadline for bills to get out of committee. The Finance Committee voted 14-9 to send the work requirement bill to the full House for consideration.
A few other states have established a work requirement for Medicaid. In Arkansas, just about six months after implementation, more than 18,000 were disenrolled from their Medicaid insurance because they didn’t meet the requirement.
“We do need to slow this train down,” said Delegate John Williams, D-Monongalia. “I don’t feel comfortable just being us and Arkansas.”
Other states with Medicaid work requirements include Indiana and Kentucky. A few others are set to begin.
If the Legislature approves the measure, West Virginia still would need to apply for a waiver from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
As it stands now, West Virginia proposes requiring able-bodied adults receiving Medicaid benefits to participate in work, education or a volunteer program at least 20 hours a week. There could be exceptions consistent with federal law.
“This program here is looking at trying to get people back into doing something productive so they can take them out of Medicaid,” said Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer.
“People that are able-bodied should be able to do something to help all the taxpayers who are helping them with this program.”
Cindy Beane, director of the West Virginia Bureau for Medical Services, described some flexibility in how West Virginia could tailor its requirements. She suggested West Virginia would focus on the Medicaid expansion program, which has about 138,000 participants.
Others who spoke before the committee said implementation could be difficult. They said keeping track of workforce participation is the challenge.
“We understand the goal of the bill, to get people back to work,” said Tom Susman, a lobbyist for the West Virginia Rural Health Association. “We just need to make sure the barriers aren’t such that it causes people to fall through the cracks.”
Ted Boettner of the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, a think tank and advocacy organization, also said administering and verifying the requirements could be difficult. He suggested pairing any changes to additional investment in workforce training.
“Medicaid is not a work program,” Boettner said. “It is designed to provide health insurance.”
Juliet Terry, a lobbyist for the Opportunity Solutions Project advocacy organization, said the goal of the bill is encouraging workforce participation.
“There is a lot of value to just having someone return to some level of productivity,” Terry said.
Some members of the committee suggested slowing down in West Virginia.
“I believe people who can work should be working,” said Delegate Dave Pethtel, D-Wetzel. But, he said, “This bill is wide open. This bill is on fast track. There are very few states that have done this.”