The move allows states to apply for waivers from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that will give them the go-ahead to require Medicaid enrollees to work in order to receive health care coverage.
In response to the announcement, Seema Verma, administrator of the CMS, suggested the initiative will ultimately help Medicaid recipients get out of poverty.
"Our policy guidance was in response to states that asked us for the flexibility they need to improve their programs," Verma said in a statement. "[It's also going] to help people in achieving greater well-being and self-sufficiency."
But that's just not how it works, says Mary Gerisch, a member chair of the Rights & Democracy health care justice team.
Speaking to Radio Sputnik's Loud & Clear, Gerisch called the move "insidious" and "sinister."
"They want to push people off medicaid and… give states… the option to tell people that you can't be on Medicaid because you're not working," Gerisch said. "But the more sinister motive is to further create the stigma of being poor for people who are having employment and health problems and to further divide our country so that instead of looking at each other as human beings, who all have a right to health care, we look at each other as deadbeats."
And, like the many others shocked by the announcement, Gerisch told show hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou that what really grinds her gears is the reasoning behind the sudden change.
"[What] really kills me about this is that the reason they used to justify a work requirement for Medicaid were things like ‘statistics show that when people have more money, their life expectancy is longer and their health is better,'" Gerisch said, adding with exasperation, "Maybe that's because they can get all the health care they need without worrying about whether it will impinge on their ability to feed their families."
"The other thing [that was mentioned was] that people are less depressed when they have money, well yeah, people that are on Medicaid are frequently depressed, I would imagine so," the activist said. "If I'm struggling because I'm ill and I can't afford my medication… and I have to choose between medicine and food, that would be depressing, there's no doubt about it."
For Gerisch, it couldn't be more obvious that supporters of the policy change "don't have a clue of what it means to not be able to buy your medicine or go to the doctor when you're not feeling well because you don't have the co-pay."
According to reports, 10 states have already applied to impose work requirements.