Op-Ed

Trump’s people are messing with Medicaid. Here’s why they shouldn’t

Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, spoke during a listening session in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, June 21, 2017. Listening were Dr. Douglas Lake, from Iowa, left; Tom Price, then-Health and Human Services secretary, and Candace Fowler, from Missouri.
Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, spoke during a listening session in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, June 21, 2017. Listening were Dr. Douglas Lake, from Iowa, left; Tom Price, then-Health and Human Services secretary, and Candace Fowler, from Missouri. AP

On Nov. 7, Seema Verma, director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, announced that the Trump administration has fundamentally changed the rules for Medicaid, calling it a “new day for Medicaid.”

It is, indeed, a new day: Medicaid’s objectives have been redesigned to discourage “government dependence” and to remove people from the rolls, rather than to promote health and access to affordable care.

It is deeply troubling that the rules have been rewritten to usher in a new era of 1115 Medicaid waivers with requirements and penalties that no previous administration has ever approved. In fact, they have been the basis for rejecting waivers in the past.

Changing the rules of the game doesn’t change the evidence. Making it acceptable to add work requirements, more administrative red tape and lock-out periods won’t result in better health. They never have and they never will. And nearly 100,000 Kentuckians shouldn’t have to lose Medicaid coverage in order to prove what we already know.

Let’s not forget that the majority of Kentuckians who are enrolled in expanded Medicaid coverage are already working; unfortunately, they have jobs that don’t offer employer-sponsored insurance or that pay them enough to afford private coverage. That’s why Medicaid is such a vital work support. You have to be healthy in order to work.

Our policymakers should stop attempting to make Medicaid into a jobs program for low-income adults with health care as the prize. Regardless of CMS’ decision to remove the guardrails and allow states to experiment with punitive and costly new requirements, Kentuckians deserve better. State and federal officials should continue to promote the original purpose of the Medicaid program: for low-income people to have coverage so they can improve their health.

Emily Beauregard is executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health.

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