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Should Companies Get Their Workers on Medicaid?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 14, 2015 10:57 AM

While employers have to offer health coverage to full time employees under Obamacare, could it be better to steer them towards Medicaid instead? That's what at least one corporate advisor, writing in Forbes, is arguing.

To be fair, that article's author runs a company which advises employers on how to get public benefits for their workers, so he might not be the most objective. But, he is correct -- certain low-wage workers can qualify for Medicaid in some states, and if they chose it over employer-sponsored health insurance, that could save companies money -- at the public's expense.

Who Could Qualify

Under Obamacare, most employers are required to offer health care coverage for employees who work 30 hours or more a week. Workers who qualify for their employers plan can decline coverage, however. They may instead chose to purchase their own insurance or use Medicaid if they qualify.

For the states which haven't expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, workers will qualify based on the state's own rules, which often take into account factors beyond just the worker's poverty, including pregnancy, disability, and age.

For states expanding Medicaid, workers can qualify based only on income and household size. Expanded Medicaid is available to households making up to 138% of the federal poverty level. For individuals, that's $16,243 a year, or $33,465 for a family of four. (Unlike Obamacare, individuals don't have to work more than 30 hours a week to qualify for Medicaid.)

For example, a single person in California working a less than full time at one minimum wage job would likely be able to qualify for Medicaid. So could workers with families making slightly higher wages -- up to around $17 a hour for a full time worker supporting a family of four.

As Walmart Goes, So Go I?

Of course, having the tax payers pay healthcare expenses you're legally required to provide employees might not be the best press. Walmart, for example, is regularly lambasted for paying workers so little that they must rely on food stamps and public assistance.

A report that made headlines last year claimed that Walmart, the nation's largest employer, costs the country over $6 billion a year in public assistance. Though the report was criticized by many, public pressure has lead Walmart to pledge to raise entry level wages to $10 an hour. That's enough to disqualify a full-time employee from Medicaid coverage, but still less than the $15 an hour living wage advocates have been arguing for.

If you're willing to risk the potential public backlash, getting your employees on Medicaid instead of your insurance plan could be -- well, if not a good idea, at least legal.

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