More than 4,500 Arkansans could lose health coverage for failing to report work

by Steve Brawner (BRAWNERSTEVE@MAC.COM) 279 views 

More than 4,500 beneficiaries of the state’s Arkansas Works program were in danger of losing their health insurance Saturday, although the state’s Department of Human Services said the final numbers won’t be available until Sept. 13.

DHS spokesperson Amy Webb said Thursday (Sept. 6) that as of Sept. 3, the latest numbers she had available, 4,574 beneficiaries had two months of noncompliance with the program’s work requirement and had also not complied with the August work requirement.

Under a waiver obtained through the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), enrollees who fail to meet the requirement for three months in a calendar year lose coverage and are not eligible to regain it until Jan. 1, 2019. However, Webb said they had until Sept. 5 to comply, and some could either have become exempt, had their case closed, or become compliant by then. Final numbers likely won’t be available until Sept. 13.

Moreover, the state is extending the reporting deadline until Oct. 5 for enrollees who may have been affected by a software issue that affected several state agencies Sept. 5, including DHS. Those individuals can request a good cause exemption by contacting their local DHS county office or sending an email to to AWgoodcauserequest@dhs.arkansas.gov.

All reporting of the work requirement is done online.

Originally known as the “private option,” Arkansas Works was created by Republican legislators and Gov. Mike Beebe in 2013 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could choose whether to expand their Medicaid populations under the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. Many Republican-leaning states chose not to expand their populations. Arkansas did, but instead of simply expanding Medicaid, it used mostly federal funds to purchase private health insurance for those lower-income individuals.

At the beginning of August, the program covered 265,223 individuals, down from 285,564 on Jan. 1.

Earlier this year, Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s administration obtained a waiver from CMS allowing it to require some recipients to work. Arkansas Works enrollees ages 19 to 49 must work 80 hours per month, engage in job training or educational activities, or do community service work. Those who fail to comply for three months in a calendar year can lose their health insurance. Various individuals, such as pregnant women, are exempt. Arkansas began implementing the work requirement June 1 for recipients ages 30-49 and will expand that requirement to individuals ages 19 to 29 during the first part of next year.

According to a report released by the Department of Human Services Aug. 14, more than 46,000 enrollees were subject to the work requirement.

Three Arkansans have filed suit in U.S. District Court against the new work requirement, saying  the federal executive branch bypassed the legislative process and acted on its own to “comprehensively transform” Medicaid. The plaintiffs are represented by Legal Aid of Arkansas, the National Health Law Program, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Gov. Hutchinson said in a statement that DHS had tried to ensure recipients were compliant through mailings, emails, phone calls and other efforts. A call center was open seven days a week from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m.

“While many took advantage of work opportunities and fully complied with the requirement, there were some that either found work, moved onto other insurance, or moved out of state without notifying DHS,” he said. “Some simply chose not to comply. Those are the ones who will be removed from the rolls.

“Personal responsibility is important. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure those who qualify for the program keep their coverage, but we will also make sure those who no longer qualify are removed. Otherwise, the taxpayers would be paying for health insurance premiums for those that are not eligible.”

He said he would have further comment next week.

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