Republican Senator Mark Johnson of East Grand Forks introduced a bill (SF 3611) on March 19 that proposes a “work requirement” for recipients of Medical Assistance (Medicaid). Johnson’s bill would create a team of state and local officials, who would decide if a person receiving Medicaid is or is not “able bodied” and not working. If so, recipients could be denied healthcare until they prove that they are working. Johnson’s bill is missing some important facts.

    A nationwide Kaiser Family Foundation analysis from spring of 2017 found that: almost 80% of adults in Medicaid are from working families and almost 60% are already in the workforce. Often, the working poor who benefit from Medicaid have wages so low they qualify for assistance (Medicaid and otherwise) to make ends meet.

    Most non-working recipients do not work because they are unable to do so: 35% of are unable to work because of disability or illness. 28% are taking care of other members of their families in lieu of jobs. 18% are students. 8% are looking for work but can’t find it. 8% are retired. Who is left? That leaves about 3% of the nonworking adult Medicaid population who could even possibly be defined as “able-bodied” yet choosing not to work. Why is this the target of Johnson’s bill? Its purpose is to promote lies about low-income people. Is adding another layer to state bureaucracy a wise use of taxpayer dollars or is Johnson simply chasing a solution to a non-existent problem?

    While this bill would create jobs within state government to oversee the implementation and oversight of a massive program tracking down poor people, it won’t help the working poor on Medicaid climb the economic ladder. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services explicitly indicate that states will be required to develop strategies to assist Medicaid recipients in meeting work requirements in order to remain eligible for their healthcare. However, Federal Medicaid funds cannot be used to help recipients overcome real barriers to work -  childcare, transportation, education, and job training. What is clear is that under this bill, the cost will be passed along to Minnesota taxpayers.

    Senator Johnson’s bill will make it harder for our hospitals and clinics to do business. Unnecessary, cumbersome red tape will be required as hospitals will have to determine eligibility and payment. In 1986, Congress enacted the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act to ensure that the public do not have to fear going to the hospital for emergency treatment, regardless of their ability to pay. The bill proposed by Senator Johnson does nothing to help contain costs for hospitals and providers who are required to treat some people who will have had their healthcare coverage (Medicaid) taken away from them.

    Senator Johnson’s approach is just another attack on low-income, working people. It attempts to address a problem that does not exist. He has failed to consider the consequences this bill will have for hospitals, clinics, taxpayers, and most importantly, healthcare for hard-working people. Other legislators took note. Senator Scott Jensen (Chaska), a physician and a member of Johnson’s party, has issues with the bill and did not vote for it.

    Senator Johnson needs to do his homework before burdening the taxpayers of Minnesota with unnecessary bills, unnecessary costs, and unfunded mandates.  The expectation that Minnesota taxpayers should absorb the costs for a bill that has no return on investment is less about fiscal responsibility and more about partisan politics and demonizing the poor. Minnesotans deserve better.

    Providing healthcare to hard-working people is a test of morality. In the vast majority of Medicaid cases, these people are working and struggling every day to make ends meet. They do what they can but just cannot get ahead. They feel that the system is rigged against them. We believe that Minnesotans are compassionate about the plight of the working poor once they know the facts. Without question and without exception, we need to care for the most vulnerable among us and “feed and heal the sick”. If you share a similar conviction, we would encourage you to do what you can to help those in your community less fortunate than you - and to share your feelings with Senator Johnson.