Utah on Thursday suspended its Medicaid work requirement due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It was the only remaining state with an active Section 1115 waiver imposing work requirements on Medicaid expansion enrollees as a condition of keeping their coverage. The suspension was decided on Thursday morning, said Kolbi Young, a spokeswoman for the Utah Division of Medicaid and Health Financing.
Utah expansion enrollees were required to fill out an online job readiness assessment and participate in an online training program. Then they had to complete 48 job searches in the first 90 days of their Medicaid eligibility.
But Medicaid advocates said the requirement, which they opposed all along, clearly was no longer viable with the collapse of the job market as a result of the pandemic, which has closed many businesses.
"During this time of increasing cases of COVID-19, a 'Stay Safe, Stay Home' directive, and rising unemployment, it is important that Medicaid members be able to continue their health coverage," said Utah Medicaid Director Nate Checketts. "Suspending the community engagement requirement during this state of emergency recognizes the unique challenges created by this public health crisis."
Utah's full Medicaid expansion took effect Jan. 1, 2020, covering an estimated 120,000 adults with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level.
In a ballot initiative in November 2018, Utah voters approved a full Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. But Republican Gov. Gary Herbert and GOP lawmakers tried last year to limit the scope of the expansion and established the work-search requirement.
After they failed to win CMS approval for a waiver to restrict eligibility just to people with incomes up to 100% of poverty, the state implemented the full expansion with the work-search mandate, which advocates said would reduce enrollment.
Matt Slonaker, executive director of the Utah Health Policy Project, which supports expansion, said the state did the right thing by eliminating the work requirement during the current economic and health crisis, as people lose their jobs and access to affordable healthcare.
"The requirement was misguided and unlawful in the best of times and immensely inappropriate given the COVID-19 pandemic," he said. "Barriers to healthcare need to be eliminated."
Medicaid work requirements, which the Trump administration has strongly backed, are on hold in many other states following federal district court and appellate court rulings holding that such policies are not consistent with the statutory objective of the Medicaid program to provide coverage. In Arkansas, 18,000 expansion enrollees were dropped from coverage in 2018 due to that state's work requirement.
As a result of the pandemic, other states, including Republican-led Arizona, Indiana, and Iowa, have temporarily eased Medicaid coverage and enrollment rules to help low-income people maintain coverage. Some have waived premiums and copayments for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program and made it easier to enroll.
Going in the other direction, Oklahoma is pushing ahead with Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt's proposal to expand Medicaid coverage but include a work requirement, premiums, and co-pays.