RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia was one of the last states in the nation to expand the state’s Medicaid health-care program last year. But a new report by The Commonwealth Institute says if work requirements are added to the law, they could knock about 74,000 people off the rolls.
The report is based on experience in Arkansas, which was the first state to add work requirements for people who qualify for Medicaid – according to Freddy Mejia, policy analyst with The Commonwealth Institute.
“In Arkansas, around 18,000 people lost coverage,” says Mejia. “That was 23% of the population subject to the work requirements. And there have been, you know, alarm bells from health advocates that there’s just a lack of information and general confusion among enrollees around these work-reporting requirements.”
Advocates of the work program in Virginia, known as COMPASS, believe it will stimulate folks on Medicaid to find better employment with health insurance – which in turn could reduce dependence on the federally-funded health program.
But Mejia says national studies show that many people on Medicaid are already working – at low-wage jobs that don’t offer health insurance.
Virginia officials are still negotiating with the federal government about starting the COMPASS plan. COMPASS would require people enrolled in Medicaid who don’t already have jobs to work 80 hours a month – and Mejia says for many, that would be a major burden.
“For folks who aren’t working, they usually have pretty significant barriers to employment,” says Mejia. “Things like chronic illness, mental or physical health concerns, lack of transportation. They could be caring for a loved one.”
The COMPASS program would also require some Medicaid enrollees to pay premiums as part of their health coverage. And the report says tracking all this additional data will cost the state more money.
So far, Virginia has added close to 400,000 lower-income adults to its Medicaid rolls.