Medicaid work requirements are cruel and misguided

Recently, our state senate looked at ways to limit Medicaid access with Senate Bill 193, introduced by Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks. You may have seen his ill-informed “My Turn” on the matter earlier this year; it makes me deeply concerned as a constituent and as someone whose fellow community members depend on Medicaid. The views expressed by Kelly are false and misguided.

 

SB 193 is dangerous, but the main reason why I am so appalled and disillusioned from his words is that he’s pretending not to be aware of the requirements, barriers and impediments Medicaid recipients already face. Medicaid for many Alaskans is the only form of insurance and coverage they have. In addition to the current requirements like income brackets qualifications, documented illnesses and disabilities, household size, and other barriers, SB 193 would require those recipients to, “Engage with their community through employment, volunteerism, or subsistence activities.”

The idea that Medicaid recipients don’t have jobs and don’t engage with their communities is a false assumption made by many of our elected officials who co-sponsored this bill. The data is clear, 87 percent of recipients are already employed, according to Health State Affairs. The other 13 percent? Children, elderly, and people with certain disabilities or illnesses. You know, people who can’t work, or work in a traditional setting.

Earlier this year, I worked at the eye clinic on Minnie Street in Fairbanks. Most of the patients I interacted with were on Medicaid. For some, it was their only form of insurance. And while Kelly may see a cost on that Medicaid card, that’s not what I saw. I saw a mom with three kids getting their eyes checked for the first time, workers who couldn’t get workers’ compensation and who are in pain, veterans getting their eye pressures checked, a dad from Rampart coming in for an appointment, college students learning about insurance coverage, a newborn from Denali whose retina detached, a teacher getting new glasses. These were hardworking, earnest, involved people who are trying to take care of themselves with the resources they have.

Not to mention, under these requirements, women lose the most. Women make up the majority (62 percent) of Alaska’s adult Medicaid beneficiaries. This change will hurt women especially and particularly those who already face the highest barriers to care.

As with any public assistance program, Medicaid is designed to help those already facing circumstantial, medical, or expensive barriers in obtaining health care. Medicaid already has stringent requirements as it is, and trying to impose more, based on false assumptions, is downright despicable.

Kelly knows the facts. He knows the majority of Alaska’s 196,000 Medicaid recipients are employed. He knows that more than half of our people in rural areas and villages depend on Medicaid. He knows that under this bill, there is a potential for thousands of women, veterans, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, elderly and children to lose access to health care because they can’t prove their eligibility or exemption in time. He also knows that the 36,000 people that newly qualified for Medicaid in 2015 would not meet the “qualifications” of this legislation, and would be put in life-threatening, if not terminal, situations.

So if he knows this, then why pursue this dangerous legislation? Because he and other legislators who support this bill claim to have perspective. When in reality, Kelly refuses to see how people live, which means they are actively choosing to take our health care away. They are actively choosing to publish myth over fact. They are actively choosing to ignore the necessity of accessible health care.

We cannot let these lies continue. We deserve health care however we can get it, without shame, without myths, without Kelly.


• Alyssa Quintyne is a constituent from Fairbanks. She is a former University of Alaska Fairbanks political science student, and advocate for various communities.


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