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Medicaid Work Requirement Bill Faces Uphill Battle in WY House

SF 144, which would require Medicaid recipients to work in order to continue coverage, needs a hearing in the Wyoming House of Representatives' Committee of the Whole by Feb. 21 in order to advance. (U.S. Navy)
SF 144, which would require Medicaid recipients to work in order to continue coverage, needs a hearing in the Wyoming House of Representatives' Committee of the Whole by Feb. 21 in order to advance. (U.S. Navy)
February 20, 2019

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Proponents of a bill to add work requirements for Medicaid recipients in Wyoming believe the measure will be as successful as similar requirements for people who have left prison and food-stamp recipients. As the measure makes its way through the Legislature, Chris Merrill, executive director with the Equality State Policy Center, warns that Senate File 144 would end up hurting thousands of the state's most vulnerable residents.

"Single parents who are sometimes recovering from a serious illness and are in treatment,” says Merrill. “This bill has the potential to capture people who are recovering from treatment for cancer, for example, and they're too sick right now to be working."

Merrill points to a similar policy passed by lawmakers in Arkansas which led to more than 18,000 adults losing their health coverage in a matter of months.

Proponents of SF 144 claim it would save the state more than $5 million, and would encourage more able-bodied adults to get jobs. It would require all Medicaid recipients between ages 18 and 65 to work 20 hours a week, perform community service or attend college or job training, or risk losing coverage.

Merrill isn't convinced that adding work requirements would get more people to join the workforce. He says the real problem facing Wyoming workers isn't lack of motivation, but an unstable labor market with not enough reliable jobs that pay a living wage, especially in the state's rural areas.

"If you want to increase labor force participation, you should focus on diversifying the economy and creating opportunities for people in the low-wage labor market,” says Merrill. “That's the problem, the problem that I would hope legislators can focus on."

SF 144 was approved by the Wyoming Senate, but if it doesn't get a hearing in the House Committee of the Whole by February 21, it's unlikely to advance. A similar measure introduced in last year's session also cleared the Senate, but not the House.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY