Medicaid Work Requirements: Fun with Numbers for the Wall Street Journal

April 26, 2023

The Wall Street Journal always likes to do the “really big numbers” routine when it comes to programs that benefit low- and middle-income people. They are much less interested when it comes to the money to be gained from ensuring that rich people pay their taxes.

Anyhow, the paper gave us a heaping helping of really big numbers in an editorial hyping the Republicans’ push for stronger work requirements for Medicaid. The piece told readers that this requirement could save the federal government $170 billion over the next decade.

That probably sounds like a lot of money to most readers, which it is to most readers. However, it is not very much money for the federal government. It is a bit more than 0.2 percent of projected federal spending over this period. If the WSJ was actually interested in conveying information to readers, it might have provided this information.

It is also worth noting that work requirements are not likely to lead many more people to work. The vast majority of Medicaid beneficiaries are already working, and most of those who are not working are either disabled or raising young children.

The bulk of the savings attributable to a work requirement is the result of creating red tape that many beneficiaries will have difficulty navigating. As a result, many current Medicaid beneficiaries who are working, or are disabled, will be dropped from the program.

The Wall Street Journal apparently believes this is a better way to reduce the federal budget deficit than making rich people pay the taxes they owe. That’s fine, but it should not try to hide its priorities from readers.   


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