Trump administration rejects Walker’s proposed drug testing for Medicaid

Scott Walker

MADISON — President Donald Trump’s administration on Wednesday rejected a plan from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to require drug screening and testing for adults on Medicaid with no dependent children, but approved a wide array of other get-tough changes to the program.

Walker, who is seeking a third term in Tuesday’s election, argued the changes would better prepare Medicaid recipients to get a job. Walker’s administration agreed to revise the drug-testing plan amid concerns identified by the federal government and commenters, Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a letter to the state.

Democrats in the Legislature opposed the Medicaid changes but didn’t have the votes to stop them. Wisconsin needed federal approval because the U.S. government helps pay for the health care program for the poor and disabled.

The plan approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services calls for childless adult BadgerCare applicants to complete a health risk assessment. Those with a substance abuse problem would then be referred for treatment, though they would not be kicked off the program if they don’t complete it.

Many critics of the drug-testing plan had argued it would be stricken down in court if enacted. Fourteen other states have some type of drug screening or test as part of their public benefits programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Wisconsin was seeking to become the first to require it as a condition of eligibility for the Medicaid program.

Walker’s spokeswoman Amy Hasenburg, when asked for reaction to the rejection of the drug test provision, called the overall plan “a huge step forward in helping people on government assistance move from dependence to true independence.”

Approval of the changes come as Walker is in a tight race against Democrat Tony Evers, the state schools superintendent. Evers’ campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We want to remove barriers to work and make it easier to get a job, while making sure public assistance is available for those who truly need it,” Walker said in a statement.

Wisconsin will be allowed to kick people off Medicaid after four years if they aren’t working, training for a job or participating in certain other activities. The four-year limit would not be continuous and the person could re-apply for benefits after six months.

Medicaid recipients also will be required to pay a new $8 monthly premium as well as a $8 co-pay for emergency room visits that do not involve an actual emergency.

The changes, approved by the Legislature in 2015, aren’t expected to be fully implemented for at least another year.