Today, Governor McMaster announced that South Carolina will implement work requirements for working poor parents participating in the state’s Medicaid program. The governor justifies these requirements based on the false belief that work causes people to be healthy, so people should lose their health insurance unless they are employed. Work requirements are ineffective, harmful and have been found illegal by the federal district courts.
Two states, Indiana and New Hampshire, have held their waivers in abeyance until the legality of work requirements are settled by the courts. This was based on decisions about Arkansas and Kentucky, who were stopped by federal courts due to fundamental problems with their implementation. To make matters worse, South Carolina would be the first non-Medicaid Expansion state to receive such a waiver, so the impacts of these requirements could be worse than other states. Yet still, South Carolina will march on with these requirements, even when they will almost certainly fail in court, wasting countless taxpayer dollars and risking thousands of peoples’ coverage.
Early this year, South Carolina Appleseed partnered with the Georgetown Center for Children and Families and found that a new requirement would lead to as many as 14,000 South Carolina parents losing their Medicaid coverage in the first year. These changes would predominantly harm very poor South Carolina mothers, especially African American families, hitting hardest small towns and rural communities, where families are more likely to be insured through Medicaid and where jobs are harder to find. If these parents lose their insurance, often the children eventually cycle off as well, exacerbating the cycle of poverty and our state’s skyrocketing rate of uninsured children.
Time and again, we’ve seen that work requirements don’t improve employment. Targeting low income parents, by mandating cumbersome reporting requirements, especially those who are hourly employees, guarantees that they will lose their healthcare. In addition, while a primary caretaker can be exempted from participation, the administrative process to do this will result in the majority of parents losing their healthcare. In states like Arkansas, Medicaid work requirements have more often caused these people to lose their coverage due to flaws in the government bureaucracy. We must not allow this flawed and needless cruel policy to take effect in our state.
In this season of peace and good will to humanity, we must stand with the law, our families, communities and state. Instead of stubbornly pursuing failed and illegal work requirements, we must expand Medicaid, an essential support for healthcare stability for both individuals and entire healthcare systems. Until we abandon efforts to criminalize, pester and punish the less fortunate, we will not solve South Carolina’s biggest problems.