Tennessee GOP: Poor people can pay for Medicaid cuts


Republicans realized their plan to take poor people's health care away was actually expensive. So they want to pay for it by cutting welfare, too.

Tennessee Republicans have come up with a proposal that is almost breathtaking in its cruelty: They want to raid welfare funding for poor families to pay for a system that will cut off poor people's access to health care.

Tennessee is one of several states to take up Trump Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Seema Verma's unprecedented new guidelines, which allow states to kick people off Medicaid if recipients can't find a job. However, it turns out Tennessee Republicans' proposed work requirement scheme would actually cost a lot of money to enforce. In fact, it would cost the state $10,000 for every person they disenroll.

So GOP lawmakers devised an outrageous solution: pay for it with federal funding for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. This money, intended to help poor families get job training, would instead be used to police other poor people's lives and take away their health care if they are deemed not productive enough.

The move effectively turns what is supposed to be an incentive to find work into a punishment for those who cannot. And it appears especially draconian in a period of record low unemployment.

The new plan will have real consequences for poor families. Even beyond ensuring care for the most vulnerable, Medicaid coverage is crucial to reducing family debt in lower-income households.

But Republicans see no problem with any of this. "Sometimes there are people that need just a little bit of nudge to get back on their feet," insisted the proposal's sponsor, state Sen. Kerry Roberts. "And this might be what's needed for some people." Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is also reported to support the measure.

Most people are aware that forcing people to work is not the point of a public health program. It's also well known that most Medicaid recipients already work, and most who don't work have structural barriers to employment. And there is no evidence taking away someone's doctor helps them get a job. Nonetheless, Republican states are moving forward with the plan, despite lawsuits from patients.

All over the country, Republicans are using doublespeak to roll back the essential ability of the government to secure people's well-being. But in Tennessee, they have hit a new low.