Arkansas is the only state in the country that’s currently implementing commonsense Medicaid work requirements, although more than a dozen states are headed in that direction. Under this policy, able-bodied adults who are subject to the work requirement can choose to not work, train, or volunteer for up to three months before losing their taxpayer-funded benefits. If they make that choice, they are temporarily removed from the program but can come back the next calendar year with no repercussions.
Just last week, the first batch of folks who refused to meet the requirements were removed from the program. It’s a relatively small number—less than 2 percent of the Medicaid expansion population—but according to the narrative being pushed by welfare advocates, the world is ending. The reality is that here in Arkansas things are just fine, and there are a lot of important details the scare tacticians aren’t sharing.
First, Arkansas’ work requirement only applies to non-disabled adults in the state’s Obamacare Medicaid expansion.
The requirement doesn’t apply to anyone outside of the state’s Medicaid expansion, which is very new. Just a few years ago, none of these adults were even eligible for Medicaid in Arkansas.
It doesn’t apply to disabled or elderly individuals, pregnant women, parents with dependent children, anyone who is caring for a disabled individual, and a whole host of other folks. It doesn’t even apply to all age groups within the expansion. Arkansas’ work requirement only applies to non-disabled, working-age adults. It’s that simple.
For some reason, this important point is overlooked in most if not all of the media stories about Arkansas’ Medicaid reform, almost as if the left wants the public to think the state is kicking seniors out of nursing homes. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Second, getting non-disabled adults off welfare is the best thing for them, and the sooner the better.
Studies have shown that individuals who leave welfare after work requirements are implemented go back to work and their incomes skyrocket well beyond what they were before, even after accounting for lost welfare benefits. That is to say, they are better off overall and they’re more financially stable because they are providing for themselves, not reliant on a government check.
Case in point: after work requirements were implemented in Kansas, a formerly unemployed individual who had been dependent on food stamps for four years found work in the publishing industry earning $45,000. To the elitist proponents of perpetual dependency who don’t realize that the median American household income is not much more, that may sound like “crumbs.” To everyday Americans, however, that’s life-changing money.
The data also shows that the quicker able-bodied adults leave welfare, the faster they will go back to work. Able-bodied adults who are on welfare for less than six months go back to work significantly faster than those who are on welfare for more than a year. That means getting non-disabled adults off of welfare isn’t just good for them in the short term—it’s imperative that it happens as quickly as possible.
Third, getting able-bodied adults off welfare frees up funding for those who really need help.
Welfare exists to help those who truly can’t help themselves, like the elderly and the disabled. But Medicaid enrollment has exploded, serving more and more able-bodied adults. Every dollar spent on these individuals is a dollar that can’t be spent on the truly needy, who have nowhere else to turn.
In 2000, there were 6.9 million able-bodied adults on Medicaid. Today, that number is well over 27 million, a nearly 300 percent increase. There are now more than 11 million more able-bodied adults on Medicaid than elderly and disabled individuals. This out-of-control growth must be solved with work requirements so that truly needy Arkansans like Skylar Overman can get the help they need.
Fourth, our state’s economy is incredibly strong, with plenty of open jobs available for these able-bodied adults to fill.
Arkansas is well beyond full employment, with a record-low unemployment rate of 3.7 percent. There are 27,300 job openings posted online, including upwards of 5,000 open trucking jobs, almost one for every able-bodied Arkansan removed from Medicaid.
Folks who want to work have plenty of opportunities to do so. Even if they can’t find a job that suits them, they can get taxpayer-funded work training, volunteer, take financial literacy classes, or pursue a whole host of other activities that count towards their work requirement. But everyone can do something—and everyone should.
Finally, the public overwhelmingly supports Medicaid work requirements.
Polling has consistently shown the majority of voters, including Democrats and Independents, support commonsense Medicaid work requirements. Polling from Harvard and Politico—hardly a right-wing alliance—found the same. Even The Washington Post, which recently excoriated Arkansas for doing exactly what the public wants, reported on a liberal think tank’s poll in January, calling Medicaid work requirements “the least controversial thing the Trump administration has done.” According to that poll, 70 percent of Americans support it.
So if you’re reading this article, odds are that you support commonsense Medicaid work requirements.
All of the hysterics about less than 2 percent of Arkansas’ able-bodied expansion enrollees losing their taxpayer-funded benefits are just that—hysterics. These voices do not represent the overwhelming majority of Americans or Arkansans. They are the fringe of the fringe who seem to think public policy should be decided by whoever screams the loudest.
Thankfully, that’s not the way our system usually works. At the end of the day, some Arkansans are simply going to choose not to comply with the work requirement. But ultimately, they are going to be better off, our welfare system is going to be better off, and more resources are going to be available for folks who truly have nowhere else to turn. These are reasons to be hopeful, not hysterical.