Kentucky tests how much to demand of Medicaid recipients

Christian Science Monitor

By: Henry Gass

Late last month, while recovering in hospital, Kayleeann Hummell had an unusual epiphany after emergency surgery: She was grateful her health problems had happened now. When the high school senior was sent home by the school nurse in intense pain, she headed to a hospital. Within 10 minutes she was being prepped for appendix surgery. Growing up in a poor family in northern Kentucky she has been on Medicaid almost her entire life. On that day, she says, it literally saved her life. But if her health issues had struck this July, she says, “I probably would have died.” July is when Kentucky will take the American health-care system into uncharted territory, becoming the first state in the country to enforce work and community engagement requirements for a portion of its Medicaid recipients.

“There’s nothing in [the program] that’s going to create jobs in rural Kentucky,” says Joan Alker, executive director of the Center for Children and Families at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute. Critics also note that the majority of Medicaid expansion enrollees in Kentucky already work. Four out of five have worked at some point in the past five years, according to the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy (KCEP). The problem is, they’re likely working low-wage jobs with irregular hours. As of 2015, the three industries employing the most Medicaid expansion-eligible adults in Kentucky were restaurants, construction, and department stores, the KCEP says. Requiring people to work won’t mean there will be jobs for them, they argue.

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