Whitmer tells feds she wants changes to Medicaid work requirements

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday notified the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that she plans to work with state lawmakers on changes to new work requirements for the state’s Healthy Michigan plan.

Gretchen Whitmer | Ken Coleman

That comes after a new report was released this week showing almost 200,000 Michiganders could lose health coverage as a result of work requirements.

The Democrat announced her intentions in a letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

Healthy Michigan is what the state calls its Medicaid expansion to more low-income people under the Affordable Care Act. While serving as Senate minority leader, Whitmer worked with then-Gov. Rick Snyder to ease the expansion through the GOP-controlled Legislature.

“As governor, I am committed to doing everything in my power to defend Healthy Michigan and protect coverage for the 680,000 Michiganders who rely on it for quality care,” said Whitmer.

Whitmer’s statement was made in accepting the special terms and conditions of an amended federal waiver for the Healthy Michigan plan. The state had to apply for the changes to the waiver after a new law was enacted in 2018.

The GOP-led Legislature last year added work requirements for “able-bodied adults” between the ages of 19 and 62. Snyder, a Republican, signed the legislation, which became Public Act 208 of 2018. Michigan then had to obtain a waiver from CMS, which was granted in December.

Seema Verma

Beginning in January 2020, the waiver will require Healthy Michigan plan members to report 80 hours each month of “qualifying activities.” That could include education, community service or work. Pregnant women, full-time students and those who can’t work due to a medical condition are exempted.

Whitmer and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) will negotiate changes with the Legislature.

The Advance reported this week on an independent study by Manatt Health, a health care consulting and law firm, that showed Michigan’s work requirements would strip health insurance from 61,000 to 183,000 state residents when fully implemented.

State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) defended work requirements in an interview with the Advance last month.

Mike Shirkey

“[Healthy Michigan] was never intended to be a benefit of perpetuity,” he said. “It was intended to identify and address health-related obstacles prohibiting people from achieving their highest level of personal productivity. It’s a bridge; it’s a gap; it’s a help to get from here to there. And that’s different from what the fundamental Medicaid system was.”

However, Glida Jacobs, Michigan League for Public Policy president and CEO, has been a vocal critic. 

“Requiring Healthy Michigan Plan participants to work is bad news in and of itself, but the law is even more nefarious than that,” she said. “It forces the governor’s hand by requiring her either to accept the work requirements — a policy she clearly has concerns with — or risk eliminating the Healthy Michigan Plan altogether, which puts the care of 680,000 people in jeopardy.”

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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