Leaders of the Tennessee General Assembly are jumping at the chance to add a work requirement for TennCare. A new policy from the Trump Administration allows Medicaid programs in each state to pursue new restrictions.
House Speaker Beth Harwell has filed a bill that directs TennCare to start the process of instituting a work requirement for able-bodied adults without children under the age of six.
This does not necessarily mean Medicaid recipients would need a job. They could also satisfy the rule through job training or volunteer opportunities.
"This is exactly the type of flexibility states have been asking for the last several years, and I appreciate the Trump Administration handing that power back to the states," a statement said from Harwell, who is also running for governor this year. "This legislation is about lifting people out of poverty, while still providing the support needed for Tennesseans to be successful and prosperous."
TennCare is not one of the 10 state Medicaid programs already asking the White House for permission. Spokesperson Sarah Tanksley says it's still unclear whether a work requirement could save the state much money.
"There are a lot of factors to consider as far as the population that this may involve and what the cost to the state would be," she said.
More than half of TennCare's 1.4 million enrollees are children. Plus, Tanksley says enforcing the new rule might create additional expenses, like funding job placement programs. She sees value in waiting to see how other states do it.
Democrats say they, too, could get on board with a work requirement. House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, who is also running for governor, says he'd support it if Republicans agree to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
"These are people who have jobs," Fitzhugh said, referring to the roughly 200,000 who might be eligible for TennCare if the program were expanded to include the working poor.