Another 3,815 Arkansans are no longer covered by Arkansas Works because they failed to comply with its requirement that they work or perform other activities for three months this year.
The Department of Human Services reported Thursday that those Arkansans joined the 8,462 who had been removed the previous two months. A total of 12,277 Arkansans are no longer covered by the program because of the work requirement.
As of Nov. 7, 6,002 recipients had not complied for two months and faced losing their benefits in December. And 2,600 have not complied one month. Individuals must certify they are working 80 hours per month, engaged in job training or educational activities or doing community service work.
DHS reported that 69,041 recipients were subject to the work requirement in October. Of those, 1,525 satisfied it. Another 53,798 were meeting the requirement by working or engaging in other activities and were exempt from reporting. Another 12,128 did not satisfy the reporting requirement, while 1,590 reported an exemption since Sept. 8.
The largest number of exemptions, 25,425, came as a result of recipients being employed at least 80 hours per month. Another 9,913 recipients were exempt because they were already meeting the requirement to receive federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. Another 8,271 were medically frail or disabled, while 7,147 had at least one dependent child at home.
DHS reported that the number of closed Arkansas Works cases in October was 15,081. About a fourth were due to work requirement compliance failures. The largest number, 28%, were dropped because they failed to return requested information. Thirteen percent were no longer eligible because of increased household income, while 5% of enrollees requested closures. Another 5% had moved out of state or could not be located, while 2% were incarcerated.
All told, there were 245,552 Arkansas Works beneficiaries on Nov. 1, down 15,185 from the day before. The highest number reported by DHS for 2018 occurred Jan. 31, when 301,745 were enrolled. The total cost per recipient in October was $573.23.
About 903,579 were served by Medicaid overall on Nov. 1, including traditional adult recipients and children.
Originally known as the “private option,” Arkansas Works was created by Republican legislators and Gov. Mike Beebe’s administration in 2013 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could choose whether or not 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.
After Gov. Asa Hutchinson was elected, he embraced the program, helping it each year attain the 75% support required in both the Arkansas House and Senate for funding.
Various individuals, such as pregnant women, are exempt from the work requirement. 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 2019.
Three Arkansans have filed suit in U.S. District Court, 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.
The Democratic Party of Arkansas’ chairman, Rep. Michael John Gray, D-Augusta, said Thursday that “the politics of the work requirement are in the governor’s favor” and that “there’s no point in arguing” about its existence.
He questioned the work requirement’s implementation.
“The bigger question with the people we’re seeing knocked off the rolls is, ‘Are these people that are refusing to work? Are these people that are refusing to go through the referral process? Or are these people that are being dropped arbitrarily because they haven’t signed up in the manner that DHS expects them to sign up?’” he said.
UPDATE: In a statement released by his office, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said, “Since the work requirement went into effect on June 1, approximately 2,800 Arkansas Works beneficiaries have moved into work. The primary goal of this initiative is to connect people with work and to help them move people up the economic ladder. This is a good sign as we’re still in the early stages of its implementation.
“I’m also pleased by the large majority of Arkansas Works recipients that have fully complied with the work requirement this month. These individuals are taking advantage of the work opportunities under the work requirement and should be commended for their efforts. As I’ve stated before, others have either found work, moved onto other insurance, or moved out of state. Some chose not to comply, and that is their right. They will have an opportunity to re-enroll in January.”
Kevin De Liban, an attorney with Legal Aid of Arkansas, said the work requirements are “termination traps that are forcing thousands and thousands of people off of health insurance that needed it to maintain health so that people can work.”
De Liban said the plaintiffs submitted their briefs in the U.S. District court case Nov. 5. The federal government and the state have until Dec. 5 to replay. All briefs are due Jan. 14. He said he hopes the case is decided by March 31.