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Medicaid Work Requirements Could Leave Utahns Without Coverage

Having health insurance has been associated with better health, increased work capacity and higher earnings. (Getty Images)
Having health insurance has been associated with better health, increased work capacity and higher earnings. (Getty Images)
January 16, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY – The Trump administration's recent decision to add work requirements for people with Medicaid benefits may sound reasonable, but critics say the move would end up taking health insurance away from more than six million Americans, including 97,000 Utahns.

Stacy Stanford, a health policy analyst with the Utah Health Policy Project, says taking health coverage away from people who are unemployed won't help them find work any faster.

"A majority of people on Medicaid across the country are working, and that's true in Utah as well," she says. "They're either already employed or they're disabled, they're caregivers, or they're students going to school."

Utah is one of 10 states that has filed for a waiver to implement Trump's plan that would allow states to place work requirements on certain Medicaid recipients, more than 7 in 10 of whom are caregivers or in school, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Proponents of the move argue that people are healthier if they're employed or contributing to their communities as volunteers, and claim that reliance on government programs such as Medicaid can lead to dependency.

Studies have found that having health insurance is connected to improved health, increased work capacity, and higher wages and earnings. Stanford says for many people struggling with health issues, requiring work first is like putting the cart before the horse.

"The first thing that needs to happen is to have your health care taken care of, to be able to go see the doctor and address any chronic issues or acute issues," she explains. "And then you can look for employment and be able to hold a job better."

Stanford adds that politicians who believe work requirements will help lift people out of poverty are out of touch. She notes that jobs that pay a living wage are not available in all areas of the state, and argues that the common refrain that poor people just don't want to work is untrue, because many people living below the poverty line are already working at least one job.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - UT