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Medicaid Expansion Work Requirements Delayed By Pandemic, State Officials Say

Gov. Steve Bullock is joined by Rep. Mary Caferro, a Democrat from Helena, and Rep. Ed Buttrey, a Republican from Great Falls, and other lawmakers for the signing of HB 658, May 9, 2019. The bill reauthorizes the state's Medicaid expansion program.
Corin Cates-Carney
Montana Public Radio

The addition of work or “community engagement” requirements to Montana’s Medicaid expansion program has been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

That announcement came Friday from the state health department.

Following the 2019 legislative session, Montana asked for federal approval to require some Medicaid expansion recipients to work, volunteer, go to school or participate in other activities 80 hours per month. 

However, the state health department says the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid approved the continuation of Montana’s program without weighing in on the work requirements, because the COVID-19 pandemic placed an unexpected additional workload on regulators.

A federal judge has blocked Medicaid work requirements in several other states, including Kentucky and Arkansas, saying that the federal government didn’t fully consider the impact of the requirements. 

Last year, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and Republican lawmakers reached a deal to continue Medicaid expansion with the inclusion of work requirements. 

Other changes made to the program that don’t need federal approval include updates to co-payments, and the program’s eligibility process are underway. 

But Friday's announcement means the work requirements are still on hold.

Republican state Representative Ed Buttrey carried that bill in the Legislature.

"Yes, disappointing. I think with all that’s going on it’s not completely unexpected.  But I do hope that under the Gianforte administration we can get the waivers approved and we can move forward with the whole reform package we put in place."

Republican Governor-elect Greg Gianforte Friday said his administration will maintain the Medicaid expansion program.

"We’re going to be looking at modifications to minimize fraud and waste to make sure that safety net is always there and financially sound for the Montanans that need it."

Medicaid expansion provides health care coverage to about 90,000 low-income Montanans who will now keep that coverage though 2021.

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