Should able-bodied Arizonans have to at least look for work or go to school before tapping the state’s free health care system? Most people would probably say yes.
Will a new state Medicaid work requirement law help make it happen? Or will it create a bureaucracy of its own, possibly snarling vulnerable populations and keeping health care from the truly needy?
There’s a more complicated answer to that question. For good or bad, the state will have years to find out. The law was approved last legislative session, but the rollout reportedly won’t begin until some unspecified time in 2020, at which time it will affect only Maricopa, Pima and Yuma counties. Mohave County isn’t scheduled to be included until as late as 2022.
At its core, the new law mandates that “able-bodied” individuals aged 18-49 who are enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program, AHCCCHS, be required to work, volunteer or go to school at least 80 hours per month and provide documentation.
The state Medicaid program provides free health coverage for almost two million Arizonans and the bill’s sponsor says about 120,000 people will be affected by the new law. The state appropriated almost $5 million to develop a computer portal to implement and enforce the law.
Many relatively low-income wage earners face difficult decisions on health care, especially when they or a family member have health problems that are expensive to address. Those who make about $16,000 per year or less are eligible for AHCCCHS.
For some, it doesn’t pay to make more than that $16,000 magic number because health insurance and deductibles can cost many thousands of dollars more each year. Arizona’s minimum wage goes up to almost $25,000 annually in 2022, assuming a 40-hour work week.
Those calculations will be made moot under the new law, and the help provided by the higher minimum wage should make the change more palatable.
The law provides quite a few exceptions to the work requirements, mostly for those with significant illnesses. As the program unrolls, a major challenge will be to assure that those who are exempt don’t lose health care because of problems demonstrating the exemption to a new state bureaucracy.
The law, however, does address that unfortunate eligibility issue that forces too many people to choose between making a living and health care. It also eliminates that choice, forcing those who are healthy and otherwise able to work to do so. That part is right: Taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear the burden should someone choose not to work.
— Today’s News-Herald