Michigan Governor Calls for Delay of Medicaid Work Requirements

Published December 20, 2019

The move would require the approval of the Republican-controlled legislature, setting up a year-end confrontation over a hot-button political issue that has roiled other states and spilled over into the nation’s courts.

In 2018, the Republican-majority Michigan Legislature approved a Medicaid work requirement, which was signed into law by then-governor Rick Snyder. Under the waiver approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in December of that year, able-bodied adults with annual incomes of up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level will have to work in order to receive Medicaid.

Whitmer, a Democrat, has made no secret of her dislike of Medicaid work requirements. In a February 8, 2019 letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma, Whitmer, who had just taken office a few weeks earlier, called the pending work reporting requirements “onerous” and said the law provides no resources for “job training, job searches, or job supports.”

In her letter to Verma, Whitmer said the Michigan law is even more stringent than the waiver granted to Arkansas, where 18,000 people were removed from the Medicaid rolls in the first year of that state’s work-requirement program.

‘Deeper into Dependency’

Reaction from the Republican leadership in Lansing to Whitmer’s December 2 call for a delay was swift and unfavorable.

“Able-bodied adults who want cash assistance and subsidized health care coverage should obviously be expected to either work part-time or at least prepare for a career in exchange for welfare benefits,” House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) said in a joint statement. “That is simply common sense, and it is something taxpayers who foot the bill for these programs should expect. Out of respect for those taxpayers, we are not willing to accept a pause in our state’s new welfare work requirements.”

“These work requirements are also the right thing to do for people who need short-term help,” the legislative leaders stated. “Getting a job is the best way to become self-sufficient for a lifetime and escape poverty. Pausing the program takes that away and pushes people deeper into dependency, unhealthy behaviors, and long-term poverty. All Michigan families deserve a path and a plan toward a better future.”

Work Rules on Hold

The Trump administration favors work requirements, and several states have enacted them, pending approval by CMS, though none have been implemented yet. Courts blocked the policies first in Kentucky, then Arkansas, and a pending lawsuit persuaded Indiana state administrators to suspend the state’s plan. A similar lawsuit has been filed against the Michigan work requirements (see related article, this page).

Michigan’s GOP lawmakers don’t always go along with Whitmer’s initiatives. Earlier in 2019, she proposed raising the gas tax to the highest level of any state in the country. The plan went nowhere in the legislature.


Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D., ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and a senior policy analyst with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.