White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday that some Medicaid enrollees may be taking advantage of the program that offers little- or no-cost health insurance.
"I think there are certainly cases where that happens," Sanders said at the White House press briefing. "We don't think that's the overwhelming majority, but certainly that's an issue and something we want to be able to address."
Sanders was responding to a question from a reporter who asked if the Trump administration believed people were "taking advantage of the system," and had therefore given states the ability to set Medicaid work, volunteer or education requirements as a condition of being enrolled in the program.
The administration has stressed that the guidelines are meant to move people out of needing Medicaid — in most states, residents must make less than $16,000 a year to qualify — and into work where they can be offered healthcare coverage.
"Certainly we want the American workforce to be healthy and we're focused on helping improve healthcare across the board, but we also want people to have jobs," Sanders said. "We are working on both things simultaneously. I don't see how that conflates with one another."
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Thursday that it would allow states to set the parameters for their Medicaid programs but stressed they were not obligated to do so. The requirements would contain numerous exemptions for children, older adults, pregnant women and people with disabilities. CMS said it was aimed at "working-age," "able-bodied" adults, and that states needed to address what it called "medically frail" populations as well, including people undergoing cancer treatment or treatment for an addiction to opioids.
CMS said that it crafted the guidance at the request of states, 10 of which have filed waivers to be allowed to implement requirements. It's not clear how many people would be affected. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 40 percent of Medicaid recipients don't work. Of these, 36 percent are ill or disabled, 30 percent are caregivers, 15 percent are students, 9 percent are retired, and 6 percent can't find work.
Seema Verma, administrator at CMS, has said she is aware most Medicaid recipients work and that she does not expect they would be affected by work or community engagement requirements set by states.
The guidelines have been slammed by pro-Obamacare groups, who say they plan to bring a lawsuit as soon as a Medicaid waiver in a state is approved. Congressional Democrats slammed the guidance issued as "sabotage" against Obamacare.
“The Trump administration and the Republican Congress have spent a full year engaged in spiteful sabotage of affordable, quality healthcare for the American people," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. "Today’s decision, together with Republican Congress’ cynical plans to gut Medicare and Medicaid to pay for massive tax cuts for the rich and for corporations, compounds the crisis for vulnerable Americans. Republicans must stop the sabotage, and focus on delivering affordable, quality health care to the American people.”