Gov. Asa Hutchinson says Arkansas Works is achieving its goal, no plans for change in next session

by Roby Brock ( 696 views 

Fresh off an overwhelming re-election victory earlier this month, Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he’ll spend the next four years advancing his agenda of more efficient government, “responsible” tax cuts, and working with stakeholders on a longer-term highway funding solution.

Appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, Hutchinson also defended the Arkansas Works program, which saw another 3,815 removed from the rolls for ineligibility this past week.

Is the program working as intended?

“At this point, yes,” Hutchinson said. “Whenever you look at the requirement for work, if you’re able-bodied, and receive a public benefit. We’ve had, I believe 3,800 people move from non-work and into employment and up the economic ladder. That’s a success story.”

“They talk about those that are not in compliance, but again, I’ve talked to hospitals, I’ve talked to medical care providers out there and we’re not seeing a jump in uncompensated care. That tells me that these numbers that are going off are numbers that have moved out, we’re raising the income level in Arkansas — all of a sudden they’re making more money [and] they no longer qualify for Arkansas Works. Without this kind of process — putting the work requirement, sending out the notice — we’d be continuing paying those insurance premiums every month for people who are no longer eligible for it. That’s not the kind of system we want. So it is achieving that objective of cleaning out the system, encouraging people to work,” Hutchinson said.

In his first term, the governor pushed for and received legislative and federal government approval to install a work requirement in Arkansas Works, the state’s Medicaid expansion program originally created as the “private option.” He says that people are moving from unemployment to work through the program along with other acceptable means of leaving the health insurance plans. In the last three months, 12,277 have been removed from the Arkansas Works rolls for non-compliance with reporting to the state on their work-seeking efforts or other criteria making them ineligible.

When asked about the fact that nearly one-third of those leaving are being removed because of the inability to contact them through inaccurate addresses or phone numbers or failing to return requested information, Hutchinson said it is incumbent upon participants to be proactive in their enrollment.

“If it’s a third that moved and didn’t tell you, that’s not a government data problem. That is reflective of this population that is here today and in Missouri tomorrow in some instances. There is a strata of people that have a mobile lifestyle and so they don’t send in their addresses to where they’re changing or where they’re moving to,” Hutchinson said. “You’re absolutely right, I want more information on those, but the information we have now that we can measure is that we’re moving more people to work and we’re cleaning up a system that had people who really were no longer eligible for the Arkansas Works program.”

“I worry about those that maybe out of neglect, they didn’t send it in or maybe even it was intentional, they just didn’t want to bother with it, they wind up in the hospital — I do worry about that population. It is their responsibility to do it… hence that uncompensated care, but again, we have not yet seen that and they will eventually get in, in January they’re going to be eligible to re-enlist in the program. They have to exercise that responsibility to do it,” he said.

Hutchinson also discussed his plans for a tax cut and government reorganization. He said that a $40 million per year hole in the budget due to lower tax rates for casinos will take away some savings for the state and possibly slow down tax cuts. He also said that while he supports an extension of the half-cent sales tax for roads, which won’t expire until 2023, other highway funding proposals being discussed will need consensus and should be referred to the people for a vote.

Watch his full interview in the video below.