Arkansas Works drops another 4,655 because of work requirement (UPDATED)

by Steve Brawner (BRAWNERSTEVE@MAC.COM) 491 views 

Another 4,655 Arkansas Works recipients did not comply with reporting requirements in November and were removed from enrollment, the Department of Human Services announced Monday (Dec. 17).

The addition brings to 16,932 the number of recipients removed from the rolls since the program’s work requirement began in June.

DHS also reported that 234,385 Arkansans were enrolled in the program Dec. 1. On Jan. 1, the program covered 285,564.

The program paid $572.11 in insurance premiums for each enrollee in November.

DHS reported that 64,743 enrollees ages 30-49 were subject to the online work reporting requirement in November. Of those, 53,975 were meeting the requirement by reporting working 80 hours a month or engaging in training or community service activities, or otherwise having an exemption. Another 1,428 were satisfying the reporting requirement, while 914 reported an exemption since Oct. 8.

Beneficiaries who do not satisfy the requirement for a total of three months in a calendar year lose their coverage. In November, another 1,936 had not satisfied the requirement for two months, while 2,429 were in non-compliance for one month.

Individuals who lose coverage can re-apply in January. That same month, non-exempt recipients ages 19-29 will start becoming subject to the work requirement.

The 4,655 who left the program represent 23% of the total number of Arkansas Works case closures in November. Another 25% failed to return requested information, while 13% could not be located or had moved out of state. The household income increased beyond the maximum allowable limit in 10% of the cases. The enrollee requested closure in 5%. Other reasons were incarceration, 1%; death 0.1%, and “other,” 24%.

Of those who were exempt from reporting in November, 25,149 were employed at least 80 hours per month. Another 9,984 were meeting a work requirement or exemption through their participation in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Another 8,393 were medically frail or disabled, while 6,765 had at least one dependent child in the home.

Originally known as the “private option,” Arkansas Works was created by legislators and Gov. Mike Beebe’s administration in 2013 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 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. Some lawmakers remain skeptical of the program.

Nine 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.

DHS announced Dec. 12 that it was adding a helpline where recipients can report their activities by phone rather than doing so online. The helpline, 855.372.1084, is open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. Enrollees can still report online at www.access.arkansas.gov or can do so in person at a DHS county office. They also can contact their insurance carrier.

OPPOSING VIEWS
Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a statement in response to the latest numbers from DHS.

“While we’re still in the early stages of the work requirement’s implementation, we’re already seeing significant signs that the program is accomplishing its intent. Since June 1, more than 4,100 Arkansas Works beneficiaries have moved into work, which is the primary goal of this initiative. In addition, the rate of compliance continues to improve month after month. For November 87 percent of those subject to the work requirement complied, compared to just 73 percent in August. This is a strong indication that more and more people are learning about the requirement and following through with their reporting,” he said.

“I expect this trend to continue with the announcement from DHS last week that they are launching a paid media campaign and expanding the phone reporting option of the program with a toll-free line directly to the agency. While participants have always had the option to call, this decision by DHS underscores the agency’s commitment to provide every opportunity possible for Arkansas Works participants to report their compliance,” Hutchinson added. “As for those who did not comply and, as a result, lost coverage, they will have an opportunity to re-enroll in January.”

Rep. Michael John Gray, D-Augusta, who lost his bid for re-election to the House, but won re-election as chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas this weekend, said the work requirement was “disastrous.”

“This Christmas, 17,000 Arkansans will face a future without healthcare. Gov. Hutchinson chose to put these families through an experimental work requirement. The experiment is over, and results are disastrous. But, Arkansas can fix this. Let’s stop playing politics and choose to do what’s best for Arkansans,” Gray said.

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