The Phoenix Flyer

A half-million poor people would lose Medicaid coverage unless they work, under legislation passed in FL House

By: - April 26, 2019 1:57 pm

Waiting for help. photo.

Despite a federal court ruling rejecting the idea, the Florida House has advanced a measure that would require non-disabled adults to work if they receive Medicaid.

In a 71-44 vote on Thursday night, the House backed a bill (HB 955) that could threaten the eligibility of some 500,000 Floridians who receive Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor and disabled.

The legislation would allow Florida to ask the federal Department of Health and Human Services for permission to impose a new work requirement on adult Medicaid recipients who aren’t disabled. Eight states have already won federal approval for work requirements. But a federal judge earlier this month blocked similar programs in Kentucky and Arkansas.

The bill passed along party lines in the House, with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed. The measure’s fate appears uncertain in the Senate, where similar legislation was never heard in a committee.

Rep. Nicholas Duran, a Miami-Dade County Democrat who opposed the bill, said the requirement would create a “catch 22” for some of Florida’s most-vulnerable families.

He said Florida’s stringent Medicaid eligibility limits could cause Medicaid recipients to lose their health-care coverage if they are forced to work.

For instance, he said a single parent who qualifies for Medicaid can only earn a little over $4,000 a year to remain eligible. If that parent was forced to work at least 20 hours a week and earned the state minimum hourly wage of $8.46 an hour, the parent would far exceed the eligibility limit, Duran said.

“In order to get your health care you need to work…now you’re ineligible and you don’t have health care,” Duran said.

Duran also noted that Florida is one of only 14 states that has not expanded Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. And he cited the bill’s impact on a population that has a high poverty rate and has many workers in low-wage jobs.

“We’re going down the wrong path. Courts will tell us that. It doesn’t make sense. There are better ways to do this,” Duran said.

Rep. Daniel Perez, the Miami-Dade Republican who sponsored the legislation, said there was no “malintent” behind the legislation.

He said the program was designed to provide “an equal opportunity” for Medicaid recipients to improve their status by participating in education, job training or employment that could help them advance.

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Lloyd Dunkelberger
Lloyd Dunkelberger

Lloyd Dunkelberger has been covering Florida government for over three decades. He’s reported and edited in Tallahassee for the New York Times Regional Newspapers group, Florida Politics, and the News Service of Florida. He grew up in Jacksonville and Palm Beach County and got his journalism degree at the University of Florida.