More than 1 million Minnesotans get free health care from a government welfare program called Medical Assistance (MA). Despite our strong economy, 1 in 5 of our neighbors rely on Medical Assistance for their health care.

The program is funded with state and federal tax dollars and was originally designed to help the disabled, children and pregnant mothers. Obamacare dramatically expanded the program in 2014, and with the help of Gov. Mark Dayton, the number of people receiving free health care from Medical Assistance has nearly tripled and is now costing taxpayers more than $11 billion a year.

It is one of the fastest-growing parts of our state budget, and if we do nothing it will begin to consume our budget and crowd out other priorities like education, roads and bridges, and more. Worse, it will threaten the very viability of the program for those who rely on it.

That’s why we’ve come forward with a simple proposal: If you are a healthy, able-bodied adult who is not the primary caregiver for a child or dependent, it’s reasonable to expect that you should be working, looking for work or participating in a job training program.

This legislation will bolster Minnesota’s workforce and lift Minnesotans out of poverty by connecting them with the thousands of good-paying jobs that are currently vacant. We learned earlier this year that for the first time in recent history, Minnesota has more job openings than job seekers. Bringing more people into the workforce is a win for our economy, and a win for those whose new skills will bring them a healthy paycheck.

This bill will also save Minnesota taxpayers money: Today there are about 200,000 adults without children served by the program. Moving even a fraction of these individuals off of a government program and into a good-paying job may mean major savings.

Who would be against that? As it turns out, the bureaucrats whose job it is to administer this program (“Medicaid work rule might not cut costs,” editorial, March 14).

Since we introduced the bill, Hennepin County government officials told the Star Tribune they would need to hire 300 workers just to administer this proposal. It’s hard to understand why they would need any new employees at all since nearly identical requirements are already in place for the federal nutrition program known as SNAP.

That means anyone who is meeting the requirements for the SNAP program would fulfill the requirements under the proposed legislation. It’s nonsensical that applying nearly identical requirements already in place for federal programs would somehow require more government employees.

Other objections are being raised by people who clearly haven’t read the language of our bill. To be clear, the requirements would not apply to a child’s sole caregiver, or anyone with a disability, certain medical diagnoses, addictions, or other barriers to employment. The goal of our proposal is to give the commissioner of the Department of Human Services maximum flexibility to craft a program that works for counties and participants on this public program.

Working 80 hours a month is not an onerous requirement for someone receiving free health care from the taxpayers. And if work is not the answer for a particular person, there are other options such as volunteering in your community, looking for a job, or participating in any one of Minnesota’s countless job training programs.

Our economy is growing, but so too is enrollment on our public welfare programs. That’s a sign that our public programs are flawed. Enrollment in a public program like Medical Assistance for able-bodied adults who are not at home taking care of a child should be temporary.

We want people to have health care that is better than a government program that can be achieved through employer-based care or purchased on the individual market. No one who meets these reasonable requirements would lose their care, and the requirements will be tremendously flexible to ensure that people can continue receiving the care they need.

This is a tremendous opportunity to use this program to help people turn their lives around. We want Minnesotans to have the dignity of a job and a healthy paycheck so everyone can share in our improving economy — this bill will deliver exactly that.

 

Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, is a member of the Minnesota Senate. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, is a member of the Minnesota House.