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Mississippi Medicaid holds hearing on adding work requirement for recipients

HEARING: Jameson Taylor of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy speaks during a hearing over a proposed work requirement for Medicaid. Photo by Steve Wilson

The Mississippi Division of Medicaid held the first of two required hearings today in Jackson to get public comments on its proposal to add a work requirement for able-bodied Medicaid recipients.

The hope is that number of enrollees in Medicaid in Mississippi would be reduced as the able-bodied found work and possibly left Medicaid for private insurance.

Medicaid has been an ever-increasing part of the state's general fund budget. The state will spend $918 million in fiscal 2018 as its contribution to Medicaid. That represents 15 percent of the state's general fund budget and an 11.9 percent increase from fiscal 2015, when it spent $820 million.

The sparsely-attended hearing had only three speakers, two of whom opposed the proposal that would require the approval of the federal government and one who supported it.

Oleta Fitzgerald of the Children's Defense Fund said the proposal was a "hard hearted" way to limit Medicaid enrollment and that there was "no basis in fact" that recipients could be moved off the Medicaid rolls to private insurance.

Jameson Taylor is the acting president of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank. He cited a July study by the Foundation for Government Accountability that showed that work requirements in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) in Kansas led to increased family incomes and a boost to the state's economy.

"Work is the best anti-poverty measure out there," Taylor said. "Work elevates people. It helps them grow mentally, it helps them grow personally, financially. If we're going to invite people on Medicaid to work, that's a good thing. The goal is to get them off Medicaid, to get them into the private sector and get better coverage. Medicaid's health outcomes are horrible, even worse than the uninsured."

More than 755,000 Mississippi residents or about 25 percent of the state's population are enrolled in Medicaid. The proposal's requirements wouldn't apply to native Americans, disabled people, pregnant women, recipients under the age of 19 or older than age 65 or individuals residing in an institution.

Also, there'd be waivers for those with a mental illness or with a disability, full-time students, and caretakers for those who require constant care, such as the elderly or disabled.

The proposal would:

  • Extend the Transitional Medical Assistance time from 12 to 24 months for low-income parents and caretaker relatives.

  • Identify beneficiaries eligible for workforce training and assist them with finding appropriate training.

  • Find federal matching funds to fund workforce training for those covered under the proposal.

Beneficiaries would have to work with paid employment for 20 hours per work or be self-employed for the same time and could even volunteer with approved agencies. If an able-bodied beneficiary who didn't qualify for the waivers wasn't compliant with the regulation, they could lose their Medicaid benefits.

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