An estimated 20,000 poor parents in Mississippi would lose health coverage over five years under a state proposal to require Medicaid recipients to work for their benefits, researchers at Georgetown University reported Tuesday.
Childless adults aren’t eligible for coverage under Medicaid in Mississippi, where children, seniors, low-income parents and the blind and disabled make up the bulk of program recipients.
Mississippi has asked the Trump administration for permission to require at least 20 hours per week of work or approved work activities in order to retain coverage under Medicaid, the state/federal health plan for low-income and disabled Americans.
Mississippi’s income cutoff to qualify for Medicaid coverage is one of the nation's lowest at 27 percent of the federal poverty level - about $5,610 annually for a family of three, the report said.
But people who work 20 hours a week at minimum wage — or $7,540 a year — would not be eligible for Medicaid, leaving them in the so-called “coverage gap” where they earn too much for public assistance but not enough to afford private coverage.
Only 22 percent of impoverished Mississippi residents have job-based health insurance, according to the report.
The proposal excludes — among others — people with a mental illness, the disabled and primary caregivers for people who can’t care for themselves.
In his State of the State address in January, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant voiced his support for the proposal.
“This is not as some would have you believe, a punitive action aimed at recipients,” Bryant said. “It will actually help this population reap the rewards of a good job, and one day receive health care coverage from their employer, not the state or federal government.”
Other supporters say the work requirement would foster an improved work ethic, cut government dependency and weed out people who don’t really need the assistance. But opponents say the requirement would be costly to administer, and provide an unnecessary barrier to coverage.
In the recent federal public comment period, groups like the Children’s Defense Fund, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Alliance of Mental Illness opposed the proposal.
Other groups say it will disproportionately impact low-income people in rural areas and small towns where 54 percent of state residents live. African Americans, who account for 71 percent of Mississippi parents who receive Medicaid, would be hit particularly hard.
“This analysis clearly shows that a work requirement would be particularly detrimental to Mississippi families, especially those living in rural areas of the state,” said a statement from Roy Mitchell, executive director of Mississippi Health Advocacy Program.
In a statement, Drew L. Snyder, interim executive director of the Mississippi Division of Medicaid, said the new report was “factually inaccurate and reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the agency’s proposal.”
Snyder said the work requirement is “intended to provide additional opportunities for adult Medicaid recipients who are able to work but unable to obtain employment.”