Gov. Edwards on board with work requirements for some Medicaid recipients — to a reasonable extent

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BATON ROUGE, LA - AUGUST 19: Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards speaks during a press conference to update the public on FEMA's disaster recover and temporary housing programs on August 19, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Last week Louisiana was overwhelmed with flood water causing at least thirteen deaths and thousands of damaged homes. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

BATON ROUGE — Gov. John Bel Edwards says Louisiana is on board with the Trump administration’s new guidelines that will require certain Medicaid recipients to work in order to receive benefits.

Edwards, whose first order of business when he took office was expanding Medicaid coverage for hundreds of thousands of Louisianans, said he believes people who are able to work should “benefit from the dignity of being employed,” to a reasonable extent.

“I have always supported smart solutions to increase skills and encourage engagement through work, volunteering, or training,” Edwards said. “For several months now my administration has been working to develop work, volunteer and educational engagement components for our Healthy Louisiana program. With this new guidance …  we will continue developing a Louisiana-specific program for our Medicaid program as we go forward.”

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released a guidance Thursday outlining what states need to do to mandate that certain Medicaid enrollees work to qualify for benefits. The agency is expected to start approving state waivers promoting “community engagement activities” in coming weeks.

The historic move would be a significant change in how the government health insurance program operates and would fulfill a longtime Republican goal. States, for instance, could require non-disabled, working age recipients to work, volunteer, go to school or enter a job training program. The guidance also includes caregiving as one of the activities.

“Medicaid needs to be more flexible so that states can best address the needs of this population. Our fundamental goal is to make a positive and lasting difference in the health and wellness of our beneficiaries, and today’s announcement is a step in that direction,” said Seema Verma, the agency’s administrator.

Critics, however, argue that Republicans are using work requirements to thin the Medicaid rolls. They fear many recipients will be unable to meet the mandate and be left uninsured.

Edwards noted in his statement that Medicaid expansion in Louisiana helps the working poor — “a lifeline for the more than two-thirds of Louisianans who are already employed but are not earning enough to afford health insurance.”

“Of those who are not working, many are either in school or caring for family members; others are too ill or disabled to work and need the quality health care Medicaid provides to help them re-enter the workforce,” he said.