Matt Gaetz is apparently rallying his colleagues to force work requirements on people in order for them to get health care.
The Florida representative told Semafor that he’s been pitching the idea of tightening Medicaid eligibility on “able-bodied working age adults” as part of a potential deal to raise the debt ceiling. Semafor reported Gaetz has been garnering “a very positive reception” to his pitch, including from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
“Work requirements are proving to be a very unifying concept with my colleagues,” Gaetz said.
Gaetz doubled down on Friday and added to his pitch, tweeting that “work requirements on means-tested programs (like Medicaid & food stamps) will curtail inflationary government spending and increase labor participation.”
On its face, these reports are concerning, given how much Gaetz and his fellow far-right colleagues have already secured from McCarthy. After dragging out the speaker vote, they were able to force him to modify the House rules package and give them highly sought-after committee seats. For Gaetz’s proposal to gain “very positive” favor with other Republicans, including McCarthy, is not a good sign.
But, realistically, this is a project most, if not all, Republicans would happily sign onto. Work requirements for social services like Medicaid have long been part of the conservative project; Gaetz is just more publicly pushing for what most of the caucus wants anyway.
As of October 2022, over 84 million people were enrolled in Medicaid, many of whom are elderly, children, pregnant, and/or low-income. Six states have held ballot measures on whether to expand Medicaid coverage; all six voted to do so, five of them being red states.
Political popularity has not stopped Republicans from persisting before, however, so the real-life stakes should not be understated. Imposing work requirements on millions of people just so they can receive health care—or even put food on the table—is draconian.
Value judgments aside, the punitive logic does not even work: A 2019 study on Arkansas’ Medicaid work requirements found 18,000 people lost health care coverage before a judge put the policy on hold, but there was no notable increase in employment. And the more problems one has to deal with—like an inability to obtain health care or medicine—the less one is able to live fully, let alone work sufficiently. So not only is the policy undesirable morally, it is not even effective economically.