Kentucky becomes 1st state in nation to require Medicaid recipients to work

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Shortly after the waiver was announced that allows the state of Kentucky to implement a work requirement for Medicaid benefits, House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi said: “The elderly, disabled, pregnant women will suffer from today’s draconian decree.”

However, she was not accurate.

The work requirement will apply to people like Tara Bassett, who is educated and worked full time until she was sidelined with severe depression. She already puts in 15 hours a week and picks up side jobs. As you watch her work, she appears able bodied.

“I am able bodied except for this little problem up here,” Tara gestures to her head, “called mental illness.”

She says without Medicaid, her prescriptions would cost her $900 per month, and she can’t make it without some help.

The work requirement is 80 hours per month. So, Tara, who is already picking up jobs on the side, is close to the minimum. She will need to document the hours and pay a premium between $1 and $15 per month.

Pregnant women, children, primary care providers and those deemed too frail to work are exempted from the work requirement.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin says the work requirement, coupled with the premium, is intended to give recipients some “skin in the game,” some ownership of their own Medical benefits and a pathway back to contributing to public funds instead of drawing from them.

“An assimilation back into working society, into being part of the fabric of the community,” Bevin said. “The intent is not to give people pain but to provide opportunity, to give people a chance to do for themselves and the dignity that is associated with that.”

As predicted, opponents filed suit. Three organizations; the national health program, the Kentucky Equal Justice Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit claiming that the work requirement threatens irreparable harm to the health and welfare of the poorest and most vulnerable.

Opponents, such as Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth, say processing the paperwork and premiums will put a burden on the state and drive up expenses. He also says illiterate people and those who have a hard time with basic tasks will not manage the paperwork required to document the work, and they will just stop taking care of their health.

“Thousands of people, who presumably are not in the greatest health anyway, now lose their coverage. People will die,” Yarmuth said.

A substantial portion of Medicaid recipients in Kentucky are drug addicts. Johnny Pittman was one of them. Without being compelled by the state, he made a decision to combat his addiction to drugs and public money.

Pittman got clean and took advantage of programs for occupational therapy as well as vocational rehab. He now has a prominent job at the Oxmoor motor group in Kentucky and his health care is private sector.

“I’m setting an example for my children,” Pittman said. “I am capable to work and I’m working.”