Five states requested the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) allow them to limit the amount of time people in their state can receive Medicaid benefits.
Maine, Arizona, Kansas, Wisconsin and Utah each applied for the waivers, which vary in their requirements, according to The Hill on Tuesday. Both Utah and Arizona, for example, sought a five-year cap on eligibility, but each of the requests contained exemptions for children, pregnant women and disabled individuals.
News of the states' requests came as House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) considered pushing welfare reform in Congress, and President Donald Trump's administration said it would permit states to impose work requirements on the entitlement program.
“It’s clear that [the administration] view[s] Medicaid not as a health insurance program,“ Jessica Schubel, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, told The Hill. ”They are hopeful to get as many people off the program and off public assistance as possible."
Utah's application specifically labeled Medicaid as “temporary assistance.”
“This limit frames public healthcare coverage for adults as temporary assistance (similar to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), with the expectation that they do everything they can to help themselves before they lose coverage,” it said.
Republicans criticized Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act — and unsuccessfully tried to roll it back with legislation last year — because, they argued, it discouraged people from working.
HHS official Seema Verma, who leads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, similarly argued Medicaid should focus on the vulnerable, rather than working-age, able-bodied adults.
“The thought that a program designed for our most vulnerable citizens should be used as a vehicle to serve working age, able-bodied adults … does not make sense,” she said in a speech last year, according to The Hill.
But Healthcare Financial CEO Jerry Vitti pushed back on the states' requests. “You’re not lifting someone up by lowering their health status.” He also argued that people would still need care, even if states limited their eligibility.