Wisconsin aims to be first state to test for drugs over Medicaid

Wisconsin aims to be first state to test for drugs over Medicaid
Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, is taking steps to make his state the first to require childless adults to undergo a drug test when applying for Medicaid. Such a proposal, however, would require a federal waiver as it is a constitutional violation under the search and seizure laws.

The state’s Joint Finance Committee has begun reviewing how to implement Walker’s welfare reform proposals which includes imposing a new work requirement for childless adult Medicaid recipients and parents who receive food stamps.

Wisconsin’s legislature granted Walker’s request for a waiver to conduct drug tests on food benefit applicants two years ago but the Obama administration warned the governor that it was barred under federal law.

Walker’s plans, however, could potentially be viewed more favorably by President Donald Trump.

“I do think that there’s a good chance Wisconsin would be the first state to get such a waiver and it could indeed set a trend,” John Peacock, research director for the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families told AP.

The new drug test requirement would affect 148,000 of the 1.2 million people in the state’s main Medicaid program. It provides healthcare benefits to people whose incomes are below the federal poverty level – $12,060 a year for a single adult and $16,240 a year for a couple.

Under Walker’s welfare reforms, applicants for Medicaid would be asked about illegal drug use and tested. Those refusing the test would lose coverage for at least six months. If they test positive, they would receive treatment for drug use, according to the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

“It would be an extremely negative development because it treats drug addiction as a moral failing rather than a disease,” said Peacock.

“It says that we’re going to test people first as a condition of getting access to health care, which is backwards. We need to get people into health care programs, build trust with their doctors and then get them the treatment they need.”

Wisconsin's Republican-controlled Legislature approves of the plan, with Walker describing welfare programs as a “trampoline, not a hammock” to get people back into the workforce.

The plan also introduces a slide scale of premium charges for regular visits, charges for emergency visits, penalties – If the charges are not paid – and forfeiture of service for six months.

Adults would also be penalized if they engaged in so-called risky behavior – smoking, obesity, illegal drug use, not wearing seat belts and alcohol abuse. Able-bodied unemployed adults would also be limited to Medicaid for up to 48 months, losing coverage after that.

They could stay on the program if they were in job training programs for at least 80 hours a month.

Other states have introduced legislation for drug testing adults who are on welfare programs. Lawmakers argue these methods save money by getting drug users off welfare and reducing benefit spending.

A report by Think Progress, however, found that seven states – Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah, are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars administrating a drug testing program to ferret out a few drug users.

Missouri spent $336, 297 testing over 38,000 applicants only to find 48 tested positive. Utah spent $64,000 testing over 9,500 applicants with only 29 testing positive.

Bills for similar programs are pending in Montana, Texas and West Virginia.

In 2011, Florida passed a law requiring every single applicant for welfare benefits to pass a urine drug test at his or her expense.

The ACLU sued the state on behalf of a welfare recipient who was denied benefits after refusing to take a drug test on constitutional grounds.

A federal court stopped the requirement as a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s “unreasonable search and seizures” clause in 2013, a ruling upheld on appeals.

The three-judge panel noted that Florida had “not demonstrated a more prevalent, unique or different drug program among TANF [Food stamps] applicants than in the general population.”

Court documents showed that when the law was in effect, about 2.6 percent of recipients tested positive for illegal drugs, mostly for marijuana.

“If the issue were addressing substance abuse and providing treatment, this is not the approach,” said Liz Schott, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities told Think Progress.

“This is not a policy-based or evidence-based approach or use of resources.”

“The more hurdles you put in front of an applicant, the greater the share of people who won’t make it over all of those hurdles,” said Schott. “People have complicated lives, and they’re in crisis.”