Earlier this month, the Trump administration let states impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients. Ten states, all of which have Republican governors, lined up to make it harder for low-income people to get benefits. Kentucky was the first to get approval for the policy.
Only very few working-age Medicaid recipients are able to work and aren’t working. The Kaiser Family Foundation notes that “most nonelderly Medicaid adults already are working or face significant barriers to work, leaving a very small share of adults to whom these policies are directed.” Instead of moving meaningful numbers of Americans into the workforce, the move will only deepen an already massive divide in how states administer their Medicaid programs that was created when the conservative majority on the Supreme Court ruled that states could opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. The states that expanded Medicaid made the program available to everyone making up to 138 percent of the poverty line; in the states that opted out, the median cutoff for eligibility is just 44 percent of the poverty line for families with children. In all but one of those states, people without children are ineligible for benefits no matter how little they earn. An estimated 2.4 million Americans have lost out on public insurance in those 19 states. With work requirements, some of these states will soon provide coverage to an even smaller portion of their low-income population—Kentucky governor Matt Bevin brags that the move will kick 100,000 Kentuckians off the Bluegrass State’s Medicaid rolls.
That same week, a very different story came out of New Jersey, where newly elected governor Phil Murphy was sworn in. Murphy ran on a platform of legalizing pot within his first 100 days in office, raising the Garden State’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, closing its gender pay gap, and rejoining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that his Republican predecessor ditched in 2011. Now that a Democrat is in the governor’s mansion, the state is entirely controlled by Democrats. Key political figures in the state seem eager to enact major progressive policies. According to The Washington Post, “If Murphy has his way, New Jersey will become a proving ground for every liberal policy idea coming into fashion, from legalized marijuana to a $15 minimum wage, from a ‘millionaire’s tax’ to a virtual bill of rights for undocumented immigrants.”