Republicans have long touted work requirements for Medicaid benefits as a way to help low-income Americans onto their own two feet and boost employment rates, but the plan implemented by Arkansas had the opposite effect: thousands of poor adults were left uninsured and the move did not promote employment.
In a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine and reported by The Los Angeles Times, researchers noted that the work requirement likely made no difference because “nearly 97% of Arkansas residents subject to the mandate — those between the ages of 30 and 49 who were eligible for Medicaid — were already employed or should have been exempt from the new law.”
Further, 18,000 of the 100,000 people on Medicaid were booted from the rolls, and despite administration assertions to the contrary, the study found “no indication that they secured jobs or found other insurance coverage” and “noted a dip in the employment rate among those eligible for Medicaid.”
The Trump administration has backed conservative attempts to devise work requirements for Medicaid, approving plans in several Republican-controlled states and fighting for the issue in court when necessary.
Arkansas’ program went into effect in the spring of 2018 but was halted by a judge in March of this year. “U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg ruled the work requirement violated federal law because it failed to meet the core objective of Medicaid — getting medical coverage to the poor,” the Times reported.
For this reason, state officials say the study fails to capture an accurate portrait of the program’s success or failure.
“You cannot describe this as the robust evaluation that we want and expect,” said Amy Webb, a spokeswoman for the state’s Medicaid program, told the Times. “The best way to get answers to everyone’s questions about the impact of work and community engagement requirements would be to let Arkansas continue what was started and conduct a true evaluation that follows people over time.”
However, if the initial results carry forward, allowing the program to continue would put thousands of people at risk of losing access to affordable healthcare — which for some could be a life and death matter.
Benjamin Sommers, a health economist at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and co-author of the study, said “there are just not that many people [enrolled in Medicaid] who aren’t working but could.”
Sommers also noted that Arkansas “added the work requirement feature without adding new funding for job training or child support to help people who want to work.”