Make Medicaid Recipients Work? Speakers at Public Hearing Say No

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A sign at the Hoover Public Library Tuesday, March 6. A "1115 waiver" means permission from the federal government for Alabama to try a "demonstration project," requiring unemployed or underemployed able-bodied parents or caretakers to work or be in training.
A sign at the Hoover Public Library Tuesday, March 6. A "1115 waiver" means permission from the federal government for Alabama to try a "demonstration project," requiring unemployed or underemployed able-bodied parents or caretakers to work or be in training.

Dan Carsen, WBHM

Governor Kay Ivey and other state leaders want Alabama to join a handful of states that require some Medicaid recipients to work or go to school. They say that would save money, cut unemployment, and improve health as people switch to private insurance. The proposal affects only able-bodied parents or caregivers of children under 19 who qualify for Medicaid because their family income is at or below 18 percent of the federal poverty level. But when the Alabama Medicaid Agency held a hearing on the plan Tuesday, the crowd strongly disagreed with it.

A dozen people at the Hoover Public Library took the podium and every speaker criticized the proposed Medicaid changes. Pediatric neuropsychologist Joe Ackerson wanted the crowd of more than 50 to know where he was coming from.

Dr. Joe Ackerson speaks to more than 50 people at Tuesday's public hearing on proposed changes to Medicaid in Alabama.
Dr. Joe Ackerson speaks to more than 50 people at Tuesday’s public hearing on proposed changes to Medicaid in Alabama.
Dan Carsen, WBHM

“I am not a Democrat,” he said. “I am not a Republican. I’m a scientist, and I’m a doctor. I’m here to talk on behalf of my patients and people with disabilities that depend on Medicaid for their very survival.”

He talked about low-income patients – and the people caring for them – who can’t work, adding, “As a decent society, we pay taxes in order to help those people that need extra help to get by. It’s the Judeo-Christian thing to do. It is the proper, right, moral, ethical thing for people to do.”

Lianne Webb says she’s suffered from health problems, and she worries enforcing the requirement wouldn’t save money.

“Doing all that work, all those people … I just don’t see it ever becoming budget-neutral,” says Webb.

This was the last of two public hearings in the state, but people can still comment by mail and through the Alabama Medicaid Agency website until April 2. After that, there will be a national comment period. All comments become part of Alabama’s application for a federal waiver to try the proposed changes for five years.

Alabama has more than a million Medicaid enrollees, and more than half of them are children. The Alabama Medicaid Agency says the proposed requirement would affect up to 75,000 people.

You can learn more about the Alabama’s proposed plan, including who would be exempt from the work requirement, here.