A trio of Republican senators on Thursday introduced a bill that would not allow people to receive government-funded Medicaid coverage if they have won the lottery or made more than $80,000 from gambling.
The Prioritizing the Most Vulnerable Over Lottery Winners Act would boot lottery winners from the healthcare program, which is funded by the state and the federal government. The bill was introduced by GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, John Cornyn of Texas, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Before Obamacare, the Medicaid program varied by state but generally would cover pregnant women, older adults in nursing homes, children, and people with disabilities. Obamacare aimed to make the program more uniform by allowing anyone who made less than roughly $16,000 a year to enroll. A Supreme Court decision made the provision optional for states, leaving 19 without the expansion, and Republicans often have lamented the funding for the program is going toward "able-bodied adults" rather than people who are most vulnerable.
The senators' statements on the lottery bill echoed this sentiment. Cornyn said closing the loophole would ensure the funds go toward people "most in need of assistance, not on high-dollar lottery winners," and Toomey said the measure would "improve the integrity of Medicaid."
“As a doctor who served Medicaid patients for decades, I understand how important the program is to the elderly, Americans with disabilities, and others in need,” Cassidy said in a statement. “The Medicaid program should prioritize the people who need help the most, not lottery winners. That’s only fair to taxpayers and the patients who truly rely on it.”
Under the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, a person can still receive Medicaid coverage if they have a large sum of money saved but do not have any income. Further, large lump sum payments like lottery winnings are counted as income only in the month that they are received, and people can sign up for Medicaid at any time.
The bill introduced Thursday would require states to count monetary winnings for people who have made $80,000 or more as though they had made it over multiple months. People could remain enrolled in the program if they would otherwise face medical or financial hardship.
A House bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, called the American Health Care Act, also would have closed this loophole for lottery winners. At the time, the House Energy and Commerce Committee insisted that the bill include the provision, citing a study that showed low-income people were more likely to gamble.
The measure had been spearheaded by Republican Rep. Fred Upton, whose home state of Michigan recently removed more than 500 lottery winners from welfare programs. A state law to boot such recipients passed after news surfaced that a man who had won $2 million from the lottery was receiving food stamps.