Wisconsin submitted a federal request Wednesday to become the first state to drug test Medicaid applicants.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker told The New York Times that he is hopeful the Trump administration will approve the waiver, which also adds additional requirements for childless, able-bodied adults receiving Medicaid benefits.
Walker has modified the proposal after receiving over 1,000 public comments, which he attached to the waiver request before submitting it to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Walker softened the proposal slightly, eliminating an initial drug test for applicants who agree to enter a substance abuse treatment program and allowing applicants who initially refuse treatment to reapply when they are ready.
The waiver request has been harshly criticized by those who see the drug test requirement as just an additional obstacle standing in the way of the state’s most vulnerable people.
“It’s a huge taxpayer waste and it’s an unconstitutional intrusion on people’s privacy rights,” Democratic state Rep. Jimmy Anderson told TheNYT. “Just because someone may need Medicaid doesn’t mean they’re a drug user. It’s wrong to insinuate as much.”
Walker has defended the proposal as a path to a healthier Wisconsin workforce.
“Healthy workers help Wisconsin employers fill jobs that require passing a drug test,” Walker’s administration said in a press release Wednesday announcing the waiver.
The drug screening plan would apply to all able-bodied, childless adults, a group that makes up roughly 148,000 of the 1.2 million people in the state’s primary Medicaid program, BadgerCare.
The plan also limits such adults to four years of Medicaid benefits if they are not meeting work requirements. Once recipients began working or searching for a job, at least 80 hours per month benefits would resume.
The proposal may receive a ruling as early as this summer, and the new requirements are expected to go into effect by April 2019. Walker is also pursuing separate plans to institute mandatory drug tests for food stamp recipients.
Jon Peacock, research director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, told TheNYT that Walker’s approach is misguided.
“The goal of increasing the size and health of the Wisconsin workforce would be accomplished much more effectively by significantly increasing the state’s investment in drug treatment programs, rather than substantially increasing spending on BadgerCare administration,” Peacock said.
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