DES MOINES — Some Iowans who receive publicly funded health care or other services would be subject to work requirements under legislation that Iowa Republicans say they may propose during the upcoming legislative session.
Medicaid, the public health care program for low-income and disabled individuals, is the most likely program to be targeted.
Iowa Republican leaders say the work requirements would apply to “able-bodied” adults and would help employers who say they have difficulty finding workers in a state with historically low unemployment.
“I think that’s something we need to look at, mostly because we need more people in our workforce. And if there are people that are able-bodied on those programs that we can bring into the workforce, I think that’s something we should definitely look at,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, a Republican.
Because Medicaid is jointly funded by the state and federal governments, states must receive federal approval for work requirements.
Seven states have received approval to implement Medicaid work requirements, and eight states have requests pending, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a national nonprofit group that analyzes health care policy.
Most of the states’ Medicaid work requirements and proposals call for 80 hours of work per month and except over a range of ages from 50 to 65 years, according to Kaiser.
Iowa Republican leaders said they do not have a specific proposal, but Whitver and Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer expressed interest in exploring the issue.
“We genuinely need people in the workforce. And if there’s a way to do that to where we can get people the skills they need to be more productive and have some opportunities that they don’t have today, I think that’s worth considering,” Upmeyer told Radio Iowa.
Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, said she is content to use a carrot instead of a stick approach by helping any unemployed Iowans — whether or not they’re on public assistance programs — find a job through her education and job-training program Future Ready Iowa.
But Reynolds said the state cannot afford to fund individuals who can work when employers are looking for help.
“Here’s the deal: we can’t pay people to stay at home. If they’re able-bodied and they don’t have any dependents, they should be working,” Reynolds said. “But we’re going to try the approach where we’re going to try to identify them and then help work with them and provide them a safety net and support system that they need to help them get the skills and then to match them up with a job. So I’m focused on that right now and really implementing Future Ready Iowa.”
More than 60 percent of adult Medicaid enrollees work, and just 6 percent are not already employed and would not likely qualify for an exemption, according to Kaiser.