Politics & Government

Bevin’s proposed Medicaid changes could give nonprofits unwanted ‘volunteers’

Gov. Matt Bevin, right, unveiled details of his plan to overhaul Medicaid at a news conference in the state Capitol rotunda on June 22. On the left is Mark D. Birdwhistell, who assembled a team of experts to assist in the drafting of a Medicaid waiver application.
Gov. Matt Bevin, right, unveiled details of his plan to overhaul Medicaid at a news conference in the state Capitol rotunda on June 22. On the left is Mark D. Birdwhistell, who assembled a team of experts to assist in the drafting of a Medicaid waiver application. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Gov. Matt Bevin wants able-bodied adults to volunteer in their communities in exchange for their Medicaid benefits. But an organization representing nearly 600 of the state’s nonprofit groups says its members aren’t ready to welcome an influx of tens of thousands of people who would need training, supervision and — in some instances —criminal-background checks.

“I think the notion of forced volunteerism is an oxymoron,” Danielle Clore, executive director of the Kentucky Nonprofit Network in Lexington, said in an interview Wednesday. “Either you want to be there to help or you don’t. And it’s a little insulting, not to mention inaccurate, to say that anyone can do volunteer work.”

Bevin’s deputy chief of staff, Adam Meier, met with Clore in June to ask for her organization’s support as the state prepared a Medicaid waiver application that would tighten eligibility standards for the 1.4 million Kentuckians who get health insurance through the program. The waiver application is being revised this month following much public comment, most of it critical.

Among the ideas Bevin wants to include is “community engagement” for able-bodied adults, requiring them to work, search for a job, be enrolled in classes or volunteer in their communities in order to remain in Medicaid. The state estimates these requirements could affect roughly 215,000 people.

Clore said the Kentucky Nonprofit Network has no formal position on Medicaid expansion or Bevin’s proposed waiver. However, she said, its members are concerned about accepting so many “volunteers” who have been ordered to put in hours every week.

In a letter to Meier this week, Clore said members of her organization have limited budgets. Many cannot afford to manage a much larger staff. Some do not have enough space or work for so many additional people, Clore said. In sparsely populated rural counties, only a handful of nonprofit groups operate, she said.

And some groups that work with children or the elderly require volunteers to pass a criminal-background check, which costs money and raises questions for Medicaid recipients with legal problems in their past, Clore said.

“We love volunteers with a desire to give back,” one group’s administrator is quoted as saying in Clore’s letter. “But we don’t have the capacity at our small organization to work with volunteers who are simply here to check off hours rather than truly serving from the heart.”

Asked about Clore’s letter on Wednesday, Meier said the Bevin administration is working to create a statewide network of volunteering opportunities at public agencies, nonprofit groups and churches. For example, the state Transportation Cabinet might provide work for volunteers who clean up trash along highways, Meier said.

“For individual nonprofits, it’s going to be their business decision on whether or not they want to accept volunteers from our Medicaid population,” Meier said. “We’re certainly not going to exert pressure on them. We want to provide as many avenues as possible for people to be engaged in their communities.”

As for “forced volunteerism,” Meier said, some Kentucky school districts already require students to volunteer a certain number of hours before they graduate from high school. Also, work or volunteering requirements resumed this year in some Kentucky counties for people who get food stamps.

“So this is not something that’s unprecedented,” he said.

John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics

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