Wisconsin’s Plan to Drug Test Medicaid Recipients Met with Support and Criticism

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.
Susan Walsh/Associated Press

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to drug test Medicaid recipients has been met with differing opinions from those in the state government.

Walker’s proposal, which passed the state budget committee, requires able-bodied adults with no children to submit to drug testing before receiving Medicaid benefits, the Associated Press reported.

It also requires Medicaid recipients to work or take part in job training for 80 hours per month.

Walker said the proposal would serve as “a trampoline,” as opposed to “a hammock,” to get people back into the workforce.

“I think most of us believe that public assistance should be more like a trampoline than like a hammock,” Walker said. “Really, for those who are able to work we should enable them to get back in the workforce.” Walker added, “Many of them–construction, transportation and definitely healthcare–require people to pass a drug test.”

Supporters of the bill, such as Rep. Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton), told the Wisconsin State Journal that the proposal is a “balanced approach” to improve Wisconsin’s workforce.

Joint Finance co-chair, Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), also supported the initiative but said, “Some of the ideas need further vetting.”

“The governor’s initiatives have been to help people move from dependence to independence. We’re going to support that initiative and that concept, except we do believe some of the ideas need further vetting,” said Nygren.

Others, however, criticized the governor’s initiative to drug test Medicaid recipients.

“Republicans have been on this trajectory of demonizing poor people,” said Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison). “And that’s all this does and it does it for a lot of money.”

John Peacock, who works for the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, said Walker’s proposal would demonize drug addicts.

“We think it’s a big step backwards for Wisconsin because it approaches drug addiction as a moral failing rather than as a disease,” Peacock said.

Walker countered that the proposal would motivate drug addicts to get the help they need so they can get back to work.

“We treat it like a health issue,” Walker said. “We say we know that that person, if given the help they need to get back up on their feet again, to get healthy again, to get clean in their addiction, we know they can work.”

The proposal still needs approval by the state legislature, which will vote on the measure this summer. If the measure passes, Wisconsin would be the first state to require drug testing of Medicaid recipients.


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