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Utah’s Medicaid work requirement suspended during COVID-19 pandemic

Under community engagement rule, people would have to prove they are applying for jobs

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The Utah Department of Health announced Friday that it will suspend a controversial community engagement requirement that went into effect this year when the state fully expanded Medicaid.

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Department of Health announced Friday that it will suspend a controversial measure requiring some recipients to prove they have been applying for work in order to qualify for Medicaid.

The measure is an effort to allow people to continue receiving medical care during the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said.

“During this time of increasing cases of COVID-19, a ‘stay safe, stay home’ directive and rising unemployment, it is important that Medicaid members be able to continue their health coverage,” Nate Checketts, Utah Medicaid director, said in a statement. “Suspending the community engagement requirement during this state of emergency recognizes the unique challenges created by this public health crisis.”  

The health department estimated that 30% of those eligible for Medicaid would’ve needed to fulfill the community engagement requirement to remain insured. The rule says recipients need to fill out an online job assessment, complete workshops and provide evidence that they applied for at least 48 jobs within three months or see their benefits terminated.

Recipients age 60 or older, pregnant women, parents caring for young children, those already working at least 30 hours per week and students were already exempt.

The Utah Health Policy Project, which advocated for a full Medicaid expansion, praised the move in a statement.

“As health care advocates, we are very pleased that the state has acted wisely to stop burdensome paperwork requirements during this economic and public health crisis,” the advocacy group said.

“We are grateful that Utah is following the Families First Coronavirus Response Act requirement that Medicaid enrollees maintain continuous coverage during this emergency period. There are many ways that people can fall through the cracks and lose coverage, and a guarantee of access during this crisis is vitally important. We urge the state to proactively promote this continued coverage, and make every effort possible to reach out to potentially eligible Utahns and encourage enrollment.”

As of January, those making up to 138% of the federal poverty level — $16,753 for an individual or $34,638 for a family of four — became eligible for the state’s expanded Medicaid program.

Information about Medicaid is available at medicaid.utah.gov.