Like their counterparts in Minnesota, Colorado’s Republican legislators put a priority on imposing new Medicaid work requirements this year. But it was one of their own — state Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, R-Thornton — who cast the critical vote to kill the initiative there late last month.
Humenik, who was elected in 2014 and represents a north suburban Denver area, said the measure sounded promising on the surface. The goals, after all, are admirable. Get people off publicly funded medical assistance and into jobs. But when more than 70 patient advocacy and other groups testified against it, Humenik dug into the program’s details.
Her conclusion: “This just wasn’t ready for prime time yet,” she said in an interview. Humenik had unanswered questions about whether the program would cost more to implement than it would save. And whether extra red tape would deter too many Coloradans from getting coverage they are eligible for.
Humenik decided it’s best to let other states pursuing this, such as Kentucky, work out the bugs. “Let’s see what happens with other states before we make huge policy changes,” she said. “This affects a lot of people and there are a lot of issues here. It may end up costing us an unreasonable amount of money. And if it doesn’t work, the return on investment isn’t there.”
That prudent judgment from a Colorado Republican is one that Minnesota lawmakers ought to take to heart as they return to the Capitol this week. Similar concerns dog this medical assistance “reform” here, with a damning state financial analysis released March 28 concluding that the legislation would cost the state additional money while failing to deliver savings. Yet the measure is not only alive this session but gaining momentum.
The initiative, pushed by Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, and Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, would require 80 hours a month of work or community engagement as a condition for continued coverage in the state’s Medical Assistance program, with a number of exemptions. Verification would be required monthly. The legislation has cleared key House and Senate committees. Gov. Mark Dayton has threatened to veto it but his ability to do so is limited if it’s rolled into a large omnibus bill.
Two conscientious Republican House members have already voted against it in committee — Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, and Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake. Their colleagues in both chambers should follow their lead when this reaches the floor. In particular, we’d like to see two senators with deep health care knowledge — Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, and Jim Abeler, R-Anoka — vote against this. It was disappointing to see these two fail to stop it in committee last month.
Respected groups such as the Minnesota Medical Association, the Minnesota Hospital Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) oppose the new requirements. Their concerns include the number of people who would lose coverage because they didn’t turn in paperwork. Counties have also strenuously objected. Compliance responsibilities would largely fall on them. Hennepin County projects it would need 250 new employees and St. Louis County has said it would need 30 more employees. The costs for this could be borne by property taxpayers.
To sum up, the new work requirements would increase costs at the state and local levels, increase red tape and likely roll back the number of Minnesotans who have coverage. At the same time, there is scant evidence that the measure would achieve what its proponents aim for: putting people back in the workforce. Similar requirements for a different low-income program found “little or no long-term gain in employment,” according to a comprehensive review of available research.
Humenik is right. There are too many unknowns to act and people could get hurt. Passing it at this time is not prudent.