Medicaid workforce engagement approved by Legislature

LANSING, Mich. — The state Senate finalized legislation Thursday to increase workforce engagement among Healthy Michigan Medicaid recipients.

Senate Bill 897 would require able-bodied adults between ages 19 and 62 to spend an average of 80 hours per month working, undergoing job training or getting a formal education in order to receive Healthy Michigan benefits. By comparison, the average full-time employee works 160 hours per month.

“There are now more job openings than people looking for work,” said Sen. Mike Shirkey, the sponsor of the bill. “However, there are still people not looking for work at all. This bill is a way to reach out to those Michiganders and show them the life-changing benefits of work.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of job openings has surpassed the number of people counted as unemployed for the first time since record-keeping began. BLS numbers also show that re-entrants, people who were previously not looking for work, are consistently one of the largest groups entering the workforce.

The bill only applies to Healthy Michigan recipients and has a wide variety of exemptions, which include seniors citizens, pregnant women, caretakers of children under age six, people with disabilities and their caregivers, the medically frail, people with medical conditions that impact their ability to work, and others.

Shirkey said the bill offers many choices for Healthy Michigan recipients to maintain their benefits and various ways to leave the program when they are ready.

“We originally planned for workforce engagement like this, but the Obama administration shut the door on those options,” said Shirkey, R-Clarklake. “We’ve now got an administration that understands the value of work and the proper role of entitlements as a hand up, not a handout. I’m excited to see the mission of Healthy Michigan fully realized.”

Shirkey was one of Healthy Michigan’s biggest proponents. He said the changes in this bill were required to keep the program solvent and to structure it in a way that directs limited resources to the people who need it most.

“Medicaid is intended to help people experiencing challenging circumstances to become more secure and independent,” Shirkey said. “It’s ironic to oppose a provision that helps people, in a program designed to help people — and many people see that irony.”

A recent Rasmussen poll showed that 64 percent of Americans think that able-bodied adults without children should be required to work as a condition for receiving Medicaid. Polls by Gallop have shown that gainful employment is closely associated with economic, psychological and social wellbeing.

SB 897 now heads to the governor to be signed into law. Should the bill become law, it would require approval from the federal government through a waiver. If Michigan receives a waiver, changes to Medicaid benefits would not occur until January 2020.