Another day another fact-check that challenges the spin Gov. Asa Hutchinson has been putting on the Medicaid work rule — that it is putting people back to work. From the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, another chorus of a tune we’ve heard before:
Not only have over 18,000 Arkansas Medicaid beneficiaries lost health coverage for not meeting a rigid work requirement since it took effect in June, but we also see no evidence for Governor Asa Hutchinson’s repeated claims of late that the work requirement has helped many beneficiaries find jobs.
So far, more than half those subject to reporting
Governor Hutchinson said in December, “we’re already seeing significant signs that the program is accomplishing its intent.” This month, he tweeted, “According to @ADWSInfo, over 6,200 AR Works participants have moved into work since the work requirement was implemented in June.”
The tweet refers to Arkansas’s Department of Workforce Services (ADWS), which estimated the number of beneficiaries who have found employment since the work requirement began by using figures from the state’s New Hire registry.
But the state has provided no evidence that the work requirement caused these new hires. Low-income workers frequently begin new jobs or change jobs. To show that the work requirement caused these new hires, the state at least would have to compare these numbers to those from months before the work requirement took effect or to the same months in the prior year, which it hasn’t done.
In fact, other evidence indicates that at most a few hundred people may have found jobs due to the federal waiver. Most Medicaid beneficiaries don’t face monthly reporting requirements, mainly because they’re already working, were already subject to SNAP work requirements, or qualified for exemptions. Only the remaining group, which has to report hours each month, faces any new work incentive due to the new policy. And of that group, only a few hundred each month have met the requirement by reporting some work hours, the state reports. What’s more, many of them likely would have found jobs anyway.
These data are consistent with focus group interviews showing that the work requirement isn’t changing most beneficiaries’ behavior. Beneficiaries already had enough reasons to work: they need to pay their bills. But they often struggle with unstable work hours, live in rural areas with few jobs, or face other barriers to employment — and the state hasn’t invested any new money in job training programs, services to address barriers, or supports like transportation to help beneficiaries connect to jobs.
Meanwhile, the work requirement has even proved counterproductive for some. News reports describe working beneficiaries who struggled with the reporting requirement and lost coverage. Consequently, some of them have gone without needed medication, worsening their health and in some cases costing them their jobs.
The article goes on to explain why using “new hires” data is a poor gauge for employment gains — a few hours of work count in the number; temp jobs aren’t enumerated; pay data isn’t available to illustrate whether a job is full-time; they don’t reflect if a person merely changed jobs.
Unless Arkansas’s policy is really intended to end coverage for thousands of Arkansans, Governor Hutchinson’s statement that it’s “accomplishing its intent” is incorrect.