Highlight on Wisconsin: Medicaid waiver could be first of its kind

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) supports a number of novel Medicaid requirements for the state’s beneficiaries, including premium payments, drug testing, and a work requirement. Although a formal plan is not expected to be released until mid-April and sent to HHS by the end of May, if the plan is approved, Wisconsin would become the first state in the country with mandatory drug testing for Medicaid beneficiaries. Testing would be based upon Medicaid applicants’ answers to a screening. The proposal would mandate treatment for those who test positive. The screening is designed to limit the number of individuals in the program.

Price and Verma

The Wisconsin approach is part of a bigger theme of Republican-led states looking to limit Medicaid spending. Governors expect reciprocation from new HHS and CMS leaders regarding the restrictive ideals and, accordingly, are looking to get more out of Medicaid waivers than the Obama Administration allowed. The strategy is not without its rationale. In their first joint action, HHS Secretary Price and CMS Administrator Verma sent a letter to state governors discussing potential improvements to the Medicaid program. In that letter, Price and Verma wrote that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) expansion of Medicaid “to non-disabled, working-age adults without dependent children was a clear departure from the core, historical mission of the program.” Also, prior to her position as Administrator, Verma worked on a proposed work requirement for Indiana’s Medicaid program. The Obama Administration rejected that proposal.

Drug screening

While the Obama Administration allowed states to differ in the expectation they placed upon program enrollees, governors like Walker are hoping they will see more eye-to-eye with Price and Verma than they did with Obama Administration officials on restrictive policies like work requirements. In light of the recent failure of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) in Congress, and that legislation’s attempt to cut Medicaid funding through per-capita caps, the Trump Administration is incentivized to find savings in other places. Walker believes Wisconsin’s plan is a promising approach. However, there is concern that the Trump Administration will be opposed to the drug screening because the Administration is trying to appear sympathetic to the growing drug epidemic. Opponents criticize the drug screening measuring, noting that the best way to help drug abusers is to expand Medicaid and provide them with the care they need.

Unconstitutional?

Other critics have called the drug screening measure illegal. However, the state’s Medicaid director defended the plan to test Medicaid recipients for drug use, rejecting assertions that the requirement would be unconstitutional. In addition to asking the Trump Administration whether Wisconsin can drug test childless adults on Medicaid, Governor Walker plans to request the ability to drug test able-bodied adults seeking other public benefits including food stamps and jobless payments—a request the Obama administration denied.

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