AKLEG Recap, Day 106: Senate plan for Medicaid work requirements would cost the state millions of dollars

Sen. Anna MacKinnon. (Photo by Matt Buxton)

Just 15 days left in the 121-day session.

The cost of putting people to work

The Senate Finance Committee had a pretty wild meeting on Tuesday morning where it reviewed Senate Bill 193, a bill that seeks to institute work requirements on most able-bodied Medicaid recipients. The meeting was largely to review the fiscal impacts of the bill with the Deputy Commissioner for Medicaid and Health Care Policy Jon Sherwood, who pointed out the plan will save the feds money while actually costing Alaska millions of dollars.

Sherwood said the problem is the federal requirements for a work requirement waiver is very high because

“Their policy was written with defending litigation around this issue in mind, so there are a lot of requirements imposed upon states who move forward, to ensure that the individuals subject to these requirements have adequate protection,” he said, according to KTOO.

The bill would force the state to seek a waiver from existing federal law in order to require able-bodied adults receiving Medicaid benefits who are under 65 to work, seek job training, volunteer, participate in subsistence activities or care for a child.

The state estimates that would impact about 10 percent of current Medicaid recipients, about 22,000 people.

Sherwood said under federal law, the state would be required to offer work assistance to the Medicaid recipients to help with things like transportation, training or childcare. The additional cost to the state clocks in around $14 million.

The Senate Finance Committee spent much of the meeting either arguing against the state’s proposed costs or speaking in broad support of the merits of putting people back to work.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, took issue with the state’s request for 49 additional employees to oversee the work requirements, and suggested the positions should be cut and the state pursue contracts for the help or coordinate with the Department of Labor.

What’s interesting is the extra cost isn’t altogether surprising for the author of the legislation, Senate President Pete Kelly. In a March 4 op-ed published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Kelly explained that his goal with Senate Bill 193 isn’t to save the state millions, but to put people back to work.

“Some observers will assume that a work requirement for Medicaid is about saving money. Although savings would be welcome, they are neither the primary motivation nor are they likely to materialize in a meaningful way. In fact, I anticipate modest costs to implement and enforce the work requirement,” he wrote. “That’s right, I am willing to spend some money, if that’s what it takes, to help Alaskans move away from the debilitating effects of dependency and forward towards self-sufficiency.”

The bill is expected to be back up in the Senate Finance Committee today.

Managing expectations

Speaking of the Senate Finance Committee, MacKinnon gave a brief insight into the plan ahead for the committee during the end of the day on Tuesday after advancing six House bills out of committee. There, she said the Senate is still working on reaching consensus on the House Bill 214, which would rename part of the state law after Bree Moore, a woman who was murdered by her boyfriend, along with other legislation.

“I am continuing to work on the workers’ comp legislation (HB 79) to see if there’s a way to resolve differences, move forward with a pared down version or reach consensus in general. Bree’s Law, same thing, we’re working to try to structure and see if we can pull something from committee that has general support of the bodies,” she said. “We have the dental bill (HB 346) that we’re doing the same.”

Oil tax credits in the works

Meanwhile, the House Finance Committee never actually met on Tuesday as it waited for a rewrite of House Bill 331, Gov. Bill Walker’s proposal to pay off the state’s unpaid oil tax credit bill by borrowing bonds. The new version of the legislation was posted online and the House Finance Committee is expected to review it today. The bill has already been scheduled for the House floor.

Bills pass

Both the House and Senate passed a handful of bills on Tuesday. Some of those Senate Bill 216, which makes it financially easier for districts to consolidate schools; House Bill 31, which updates the state’s handling of rape kits; and House Bill 267, which gives municipalities access to hunting and fishing license records.

Is the smoke-free workplaces bill, Senate Bill 63, scheduled for the House floor?

No.

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