SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Kentucky's poised to become the first state to require its residents to work, volunteer or prepare for jobs in order to receive Medicaid benefits. This is after the Trump administration announced it would allow states to begin imposing such rules. The changes will be phased in throughout the coming year. We're joined now by the governor of Kentucky, Governor Matt Bevin, from his office.
Governor, thanks so much for being with us.
MATT BEVIN: Grateful for the opportunity, Scott.
SIMON: And why is this issue important to you?
BEVIN: This matters to me for a couple of reasons. One thing I want to clarify is that this requirement is for those that Medicaid was not originally designed for. Why is it important to me? I'm a person who grew up with no access to this type of health care. I grew up well below the poverty level, never had the access to the health care system until I was an active duty Army officer in my 20s. So it's a very personal thing. And I recognize that people in those positions don't need, as Administrator Verma said, to be treated with the soft bigotry of low expectations. She's exactly right.
SIMON: Have you considered the effect of requiring people to work in areas that, right now, have a high unemployment rate?
BEVIN: Go through any community anywhere, I promise you will see at least one sign where people want an able-bodied person who is not on drugs and will show up on time to apply for and do a job. There are plenty of jobs in America. There are 100,000-plus available in Kentucky right now. And this will start to connect people who want a job and need a job with the jobs that exist.
SIMON: Governor, as I'm sure I don't have to tell you, Kentucky has one of the highest rates of death from opioid overdoses in the country. What would you do with people who are struggling with addiction and do need help from Medicaid and other services but are probably in no position to work?
BEVIN: Here's the wonderful thing. These folks will be identified through this requirement. If, in fact, they're already receiving benefits, they're going to an office somewhere to get something, they won't have to go to anywhere new. They will now be given an opportunity to get treatment. We will continue to invest like this state has never invested in helping people with recovery.
SIMON: And what about those who just, in good faith, can't meet the requirements? Do they get no care, no coverage?
BEVIN: Think about this. The requirements are for people who are able to meet the requirements. For those who cannot because of a mental disability or a physical disability, it does not apply to them.
SIMON: But will some people lose their coverage? Is that is that the bottom line?
BEVIN: Time will tell. I would hope that they do for all the right reasons. If a person gets a job and is now covered through their employer, then they don't need it anymore. And those that we project that will no longer be needing it will not be needing it because they will actually be making enough money. They don't qualify, or they will have coverage through their employers.
SIMON: Is that being hopeful? I mean, in - I don't have to tell you, Governor, that you can make a pronouncement. But three or four months from now, news organizations might be doing stories about people who couldn't find jobs and have lost their coverage and have nowhere to turn.
BEVIN: It is hopeful thinking, you bet it is. But I'll tell you what, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once noted, nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. Enthusiasm springs from hope. And why should we wallow in misery in the belief that we don't have an alternative other than the failure that we already have? You bet it's hopeful. And the greatness of the human condition is that it's always been improved by exactly that.
SIMON: The governor of Kentucky, Matt Bevin - thanks very much for being with us.
BEVIN: Thank you, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.