Michigan Backs Down From Medicaid Rule That Favored Rural White Voters

credit: Getty Images/ John Moore
May 21, 2018 5:21 p.m.

After a widespread backlash, Michigan Republicans are walking back their proposal for a Medicaid work requirement policy that would have exempted several rural white counties while falling disproportionately on urban residents of color.

The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), told the Associated Press on Monday that he is working on a new draft set to be unveiled this week that does not include the controversial, county-based exemptions and that lowers the number of hours someone would have to work each week in order to keep their health care.

Under the original proposal, which had already passed the state Senate, people living in counties with unemployment rates above 8.5 percent would have been exempt from the work requirement. Those counties are overwhelmingly white, rural, and vote Republican. Low-income residents of color in Detroit and Flint, where the joblessness and poverty are extremely high, would not have received an exemption, because the wealthier suburbs surrounding those cities pulled the overall county unemployment rate below the threshold.

Shirkey defended the basic structure of the plan, but admitted to the AP that “tracking the unemployment rate in all 83 counties on an ongoing basis every month would have become an administrative nightmare.” He hit back at the legal experts who characterized his bill as a form of “racial redlining,” complaining that some people “tend to view everything in the world through the filter of racism.” The revisions, he insisted, have “nothing to do with these ridiculous claims.”

Though Michigan’s proposal is now being rewritten, other GOP-controlled states are moving forward with similar plans to shield rural, high-unemployment, majority-white counties from the brunt of the Medicaid work requirements. Ohio’s proposal is currently awaiting the Trump administration’s approval, while Kentucky’s has already received HHS’ blessing and will go into effect this summer unless a court intervenes.

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