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Countering Trump administration, a California legislator wants to ban work requirements for Medicaid

Melanie Mason, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- As states led by Republicans prepare to impose tough new conditions for Medicaid recipients with the Trump administration's blessing, a California legislator wants to ensure no such requirements would be enacted here.

State Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa, has introduced a bill that would bar the state from asking the federal government's permission to impose work or volunteer requirements in order for low-income residents to be eligible for Medicaid, known in California as Medi-Cal.

Last month, the Trump administration issued guidance that, for the first time in the program's history, it would consider allowing states to enact work or community service requirements to qualify for Medicaid.

The state of Kentucky swiftly received permission to adopt such requirements in its Medicaid program. The state projected significant cost savings from the new conditions, but critics have argued that the changes to the program will make it harder for poorer residents to get health care. Indiana also got a waiver to establish work requirements, and other states are poised to seek similar changes.

In an interview, Hernandez said that with Senate Bill 1108, he is "making a statement that people deserve health care. It's more about access to care as opposed to limiting it or making it more difficult."

The measure would also prohibit the state from seeking the federal government's approval to impose waiting periods or time limits on coverage.

Jen Flory, a lobbyist with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which is sponsoring the bill, said she didn't believe California's current leadership would want to change Medi-Cal so that it would inhibit residents from getting health coverage. The state has enthusiastically embraced the Medi-Cal expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

 

But she said there were concerns that the Trump administration would want to "strong-arm" states into pursuing such policies, and said Hernandez's bill could guard against that.

"We think the Trump administration has it exactly backwards," Flory said. "It's not working that should give you access to health care. Health care enables you to work."

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