New Medicaid work requirement bill criticized as “cruel”

OKLAHOMA CITY - Opponents of a bill implementing work requirements for Medicaid claim the measure will do more harm than good.

House Bill 2932, authored by Rep. Glen Mulready, R-Tulsa and Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond was signed into law by Governor Mary Fallin on Monday. The measure aligns Medicaid work and job training requirements with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which involves working, participation in a work program or a combination of both 20 hours a week.

According to the governor's office, the new eligibility criteria will affect up to approximately 8,000 able-bodied adults without dependents between the ages of 18 and 50. The measure was requested by the governor.

“It is imperative to provide expectations for all of our citizens who are able to work,” Fallin said in a press release. “Medicaid recipients who are able-bodied will be able to take advantage of job-training programs and work opportunities that lead to a stable job, self-sufficiency and success. Medicaid is meant to be a safety net for the most vulnerable among us: the medically frail, pregnant women, new mothers and children. Those individuals will continue to be exempt from work requirements.”

Cate Jeffries, legislative liason for the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority, said the bill directs the agency to apply for a waiver from the federal government to implement the work requirements.

"The waiver process can be quite lengthy. After we submit the proposal to the federal government, we’ll have to wait to hear back from them and, that point — once we know the proposal has been approved, we can begin notifying those affected members," Jeffries said. "We do expect to have some recommendations to the governor’s office by September."

While the state can negotiate further exemptions in the waiver writing process, some opponents are criticizing the governor's decision to sign the bill.

"They’re going after Healthcare for very vulnerable citizens of Oklahoma who really need it, and it’s morally the wrong thing to do," said Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City. "This is another example of what happens when budgets get tight; poor people are the first to suffer in this state."

Bennett also claimed the measure does not take into account the impact on hospitals.

"Emergency rooms have a responsibility to take care of people who walk into their doors, regardless. Sometimes, what happens pretty regularly, with people in poverty is that, when they get sick, they go to the ER, instead of going to their physician, because they can’t afford it. When you go to the ER, they have to take care of you," he told News 4. "Hospitals take that hickey on that funding; they pay for it."

The new law takes effect November 1.