Kentucky is cleared to impose Medicaid work requirements

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," January 12, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

TRISH REGAN, GUEST HOST: All right, just hours ago, Kentucky becoming the first state to get approval to require Medicaid recipients to work.

The state's Republican governor, Matt Bevin, joins me right now by phone.

And, Governor Bevin, you're getting some criticism for this. Why do you think it's the right thing to do?

GOV. MATT BEVIN, R-KENTUCKY: It's interesting. Criticism always comes from liberals. They have no solutions. They are writing failed policies.

But anyone who would propose an alternative is quick to receive their scorn. I believe it's the right thing to because I grew up in poverty. I grew up with no access to health care coverage for the first 20-something years of my life.

I was an active-duty Army officer before I ever had access. And I understand that, as Administrator Verma put it the other day, it is absolutely soft bigotry. Low expectations is not what people in America need.

The dignity that people get and receive from the opportunity to do for themselves, to be engaged in their own health outcome is what ultimately leads to better health outcomes. When people have a vested interest in anything, they are more likely to care about it, to utilize it, and to get the maximum value from it.

I am utterly convinced from personal experience that having that opportunity is the greatness of America, and we owe it to people to give them that chance to improve their lives.

REGAN: Mm-hmm.

Part of the problem with welfare is that it becomes a bit of a trap. And, you know, you can't go to work because you're getting that much from the government. And then you just want more from the government. It's that much harder to go to work. You think about, say, a single mom who makes a rational decision perhaps to stay home because she may have more money coming in to her via the state, via the federal government than if she were to actually go to work and to have pay for day care and have to pay for gas, et cetera, et cetera, and be away from her kids.

So, it seems me that there should be some kind of in-between system, Governor, where we're doing what we can to help people to help themselves. And in this one way, via this Medicaid reform, a way of doing that?

BEVIN: Absolutely, Trish.

And I'll tell you, it's interesting. This is the first federal entitlement reform that we have seen since the mid-'90s. So, this is going to be transformative not just for Kentucky, but as a model for the nation, because it will give millions of people who are in that trap that you have just described the opportunity to get out.

Medicaid and other entitlement programs were not intended to be life destinations. They were not intended to be dead ends. They were intended to be transitory situations for certainly able-bodied people, people with alternatives. We want to provide those alternatives to them.

And one of the things in the waiver is exactly that, the ability to come alongside existing requirements and transition people to the private sector, transition them to traditional and commercial health care provided by employers, because they're out there working.

And if for some reason that employer program is not the same that they would have gotten under Medicaid, that we will come alongside and make up the differences, costing the taxpayer less.

REGAN: Yes. And I want just to point out, for your sake, that if, for example, you had a single mother that couldn't work, you are not going to force her to work and perhaps take the kids in tow to that.

And somebody who is very, very ill and couldn't work, that person as well wouldn't be forced. You are talking about able-bodied people that have time on their hands that can do it.

But let me go to something else, and that's, well, shall we say, the headlines that the president has been making since around this time yesterday?

What do you make of that? What do you think needs to happen on immigration reform, and is this rhetoric going to get in the way?

BEVIN: Honestly, I have been focused on two things, number one, my meeting with the president as it related to prison reform. Then, since then, I have been focused on what we're doing as it relates to transitioning Medicaid requirements for the first time in America.

I have not focused on what his commentary has been on that front. As it relates to immigration reform, we need to address it.

REGAN: I feel like -- I guess you weren't watching CNN then.


BEVIN: I have not. I don't spend much of my time watching CNN.


REGAN: Good answer. Good answer.

But, that said, you know, I will fill you in, that everybody is up in arms about this, and they're concerned that he said some racist things by suggesting that we would be better off having immigrants from countries like Norway, as opposed to, say, Haiti or other places in Africa.

Do you interpret as a racist comment, or do you think he was really perhaps just commenting on the fact that, per capita, GDP in some countries is a whole lot higher, and you have a more educated population than in other countries?

BEVIN: Without professing to be an expert on all that has been said or -- and certainly can't speak for what somebody meant, here's what I know.

So many are quick to decry as anything they don't agree with the comment to be racist. If everything is racist, we diminish the reality that racism truly exists. And I find it offensive, as a father of black children and a father of white children, that people are so quick to be dismissive of certain things and to categorize them as racist.

I happen to have children that were born both in this country and outside of this country. And the fact of the matter is, America is a nation of immigrants. And people know that. And getting hung up on any vernacular, appropriate, inappropriate, things that might have been said, word choices that might have been different, the reality is this.

We as a nation have an obligation and a responsibility to look out for our people first. And by our people, I mean people who are citizens of the United States. And yet we are a nation of immigrants, and we have always been a nation that welcomed people in, the huddled masses and others beside.

And nobody, including our president, to my knowledge, is saying that we should be anything other than that. But what he and I think many others and myself would agree with is that we have got to take care of those that are here first. A nation has a responsibility to protect its borders, to take care of its citizens, and that we get to dictate the rules by which people become citizens.

And I think as -- speaking as a governor and a taxpayer and a citizen and as a father and as somebody who cares about this, I think we need to make it easier for people to come here legally and make it harder for them to come here illegally.

It's not that complicated. I know that's what our president is fighting for. And I think people should focus on that, and not allowing themselves to be whipped off into tizzies over some word choice, which is what I believe is the catalyst behind all that.

REGAN: Well, you say that all so very eloquently, sir. And you make lot of sense.

And there is a reality here that we need to focus on, as opposed to the circus distractions going on.

Anyway, thank you, Governor. It's good to have you with us today.

BEVIN: Thank you so much.

REGAN: All right.


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