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Kentucky Republicans Tepid On Writing Medicaid Work Requirements Into Law

Ryland Barton

For the past four years, Kentucky officials have been trying to institute a policy requiring some Medicaid recipients work or do community service to keep their health coverage. It’s been a pillar of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s policy priorities, but with Bevin soon leaving office andDemocratic Governor-Elect Andy Beshear opposed to the requirement, it would be up to the legislature to continue that effort. 

However, it appears there’s little appetite among Republican legislators who would have to lead that legislative fight. 

On Monday a panel of lawmakers did not recommend that the Kentucky legislature codify work requirements in the Medicaid program. 

Over the past seven months, the task force heard from numerous experts on work requirements in various public assistance programs, including Medicaid. Republicans at that time were trying to push through a bill that would have written the Medicaid work requirements into state law. Bevin’s signature program has so far not been implemented because of court challenges. 

The group’s recommendation comes a week after Bevin conceded the gubernatorial election to Beshear. Beshear is currently working on rescinding the Medicaid changes in his first week in office, according an email from his transition team spokeswoman. That means Medicaid will remain as-is for the time-being.

Republican Rep. David Meade, co-chair of the Public Assistance Reform Task Force, said it’s possible that Republicans could bring up another bill to require work requirements through the legislative process, but it doesn’t seem top of mind. 

“I don’t know how much of an appetite we have for that right now,” Meade said. “What we’re concentrating on right now is the budget, and that’s taking the most of our time right now.”

GOP Senator Stephen Meredith, co-chair of the Medicaid Oversight and Advisory Committee, said he never really supported the Medicaid work requirement proposal, and that he doesn’t see Republicans wanting to legislate requirements. 

“I don’t see a strong sentiment within the legislature to embrace this program,” Meredith said. “It’s one of those things in theory that may sound good, but in terms of practical application, not so good.”

But the work requirements do still have support among some. 

“I think too often we tell [Medicaid recipients] ‘you don’t have anything to contribute’  and we give you handouts and I just think I think it’s something [that] needs to be explored and continue to be looked at,” said Rep. Melinda Gibbons Prunty, a Republican from Belton. “So honestly, I don’t know, it’s just going to depend on who gets put in the Cabinet [of Health and Family Services] and if they’re willing to work with it.” 

The Public Assistance Task Force made several recommendations on Monday not dealing with Medicaid. Those included instructing the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to look at creating one card for all public assistance benefits. It also recommended that a separate committee investigate the so-called “benefits cliff,” that forces people off Medicaid coverage when their income increases even slightly over a certain threshold. 

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