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160 organizations ask HHS Secretary Alex Azar to withdraw Medicaid work requirement

The policy would hinder healthcare access provided by Medicaid to those struggling with substance use and mental health disorders.

Susan Morse, Senior Editor

Over 160 organizations, including many advocates for mental health and opioid use disorder, have written to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to protest the new federal policy imposing work requirements on Medicaid beneficiaries.

The groups want Azar to withdraw the guidance on the work requirement that was issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on January 11. They also want the government to discontinue state waiver approvals that include work requirements.

[Also: HHS grants second waiver for Medicaid work requirement in Indiana]

The policy would hinder healthcare access provided by Medicaid to individuals with chronic health conditions, especially those struggling with substance use disorders and mental health disorders, they told Azar.

"This is deeply troubling given the devastating and escalating opioid overdose crisis that President Trump has designated as a national public health emergency," the letter said.

[Also: HHS grants second waiver for Medicaid work requirement in Indiana]

CMS's policy is at odds with bipartisan efforts to curb the opioid crisis and to improve reentry from prisons and jails, it said.

These beneficiaries would be subject to the work requirement because they don't satisfy the Social Security disability requirement for an exemption.

[Also: Montana's Medicaid work requirement program could be litmus test for other states]

The January CMS guidance requires able-bodied adults to work or be involved in community service to receive Medicaid benefits. On the same day, CMS approved a Medicaid demonstration waiver for work requirements in Kentucky.

Within two weeks, three organizations representing 15 Medicaid beneficiaries in Kentucky filed a lawsuit to stop the waiver from moving forward. Future lawsuits are expected from other states that are also requesting waivers.

Grant Smith, interim director of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance said, "Medicaid currently covers three out of every ten individuals living with opioid use disorder and provides critical access to medication-assisted treatment and other forms of care that help reduce overdose and other forms of drug-related harm."

Healthcare organizations putting their signature to the February 15 letter include the Addiction Policy Forum, AIDS United, the American Association on Health and Disability, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence, the Association for Ambulatory Behavioral Healthcare, the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, Center for Medicare Advocacy, Mental Health America, and more.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
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