- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin submitted a federal request Wednesday to become the first state in the country to drug test applicants for Medicaid health benefits

Republican Gov. Scott Walker expects President Donald Trump’s administration to approve the waiver, which would also impose new requirements on able-bodied, childless adults receiving Medicaid in the state. The request comes as Walker, a one-time GOP presidential candidate, prepares for a likely re-election bid.

Since first proposing the idea, Walker said he received more than 1,000 public comments, which were attached to the waiver request to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Walker said he made some changes, including not requiring an initial drug test if applicants are willing to enter a substance-abuse treatment program. Another change would allow applicants who refuse treatment to reapply for benefits once they agree to a program.

The proposal has been chastised by advocates for the poor who say the plan won’t result in more people becoming drug-free. They said it would simply be another hurdle for people in need.

“It’s a huge taxpayer waste and it’s an unconstitutional intrusion on people’s privacy rights,” Democratic state Rep. Jimmy Anderson said. “Just because someone may need Medicaid doesn’t mean they’re a drug user. It’s wrong to insinuate as much.”

The governor has touted the plan as a way to make Wisconsin a model for other conservative states, saying it will provide drug addicts with treatment and make them employable.

“Healthy workers help Wisconsin employers fill jobs that require passing a drug test,” Walker’s administration said in a press release Wednesday announcing the waiver.

No state currently requires a drug test for Medicaid applicants, although 14 states mandate drug tests for other public benefits programs. Wisconsin currently requires drug tests for some jobs programs, but results have shown very few people have tested positive.

A decision from Trump’s administration on the new plan could come as early as this summer. The requirements are slated to effect in April 2019. Walker is also moving forward with separate plans to drug test food stamp recipients.

Walker’s drug-screening Medicaid plan would apply to able-bodied adults without children, or roughly 148,000 of the 1.2 million people in the state’s primary Medicaid program, BadgerCare. The program provides benefits to people who earn less than $12,060 a year as a single adult and $16,240 a year for a couple.

The plan would also limit such adults to no more than four years of Medicaid benefits if they aren’t meeting work requirements. Once they are working, or looking for a job, at least 80 hours a month, benefits could resume.

Jon Peacock, research director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, said the proposal won’t do what Walker wants.

“The goal of increasing the size and health of the Wisconsin workforce would be accomplished much more effectively by significantly increasing the state’s investment in drug treatment programs, rather than substantially increasing spending on BadgerCare administration,” Peacock said.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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