DHS adds telephone helpline for Arkansas Works requirement

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 1,025 views 

Arkansas Works recipients who are subject to a work requirement will be able to call a new helpline from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week, the Department of Human Services announced Wednesday, Dec. 12.

As of Dec. 19, affected recipients will be able to report their work activities during those hours by calling the helpline at 855.372.1084. They also can call their insurance carrier during regular business hours and some Saturdays, depending on the carrier and time of year. The numbers to call are: Arkansas BlueCross BlueShield, 800.800.4298; QualChoice, 866.838.9186, and AmBetter, 877.617.0390. Recipients can also report with the help of a friend or a registered reporter trained by DHS.

Enrollees can still report online at www.access.arkansas.gov or can do so in person at a DHS county office.

DHS also will launch a paid advertising campaign on traditional and social media outlets to inform enrollees how to report their activities. The agency will work with higher education institutions to inform students that their classes count toward the requirement.

Helpline staff also will contact individuals who have completed some but not all of the required 80 hours of work or community engagement activities – getting an education, receiving job training or volunteering. Staff will encourage beneficiaries to report their hours and refer them to services.

“We are six months into this new Medicaid demonstration program, but wanted (to) take the time now to access what areas we need to shore up or improve,” said DHS Director Cindy Gillespie in a press release. “Though enrollees have had the ability to report by phone through carriers, friends, and registered reporters, we felt it was important to expand that option before we roll the next group into the work and community engagement requirement.”

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.

The program has split Republican legislators, some of whom consider it an unaffordable government expansion into health care. 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.

Earlier this year, the state received a waiver from the federal Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) allowing it to require some beneficiaries to work or engage in community engagement activities 80 hours per month. Starting in June, the requirement began affecting nonexempt recipients ages 30-49. Nonexempt recipients ages 19-29 will be subject to the requirement in January. Exemptions include being pregnant and having dependent children in the home.

Those who fail to meet the requirement three months in a year’s time lose their insurance. Hutchinson said during the recent gubernatorial campaign that the requirement was necessary to maintain support in the Legislature.

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. However, all participants who lose their health insurance can reapply Jan. 1.

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.

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 and were exempt from reporting. Another 12,128 did not satisfy the requirement, while 1,590 reported an exemption since Sept. 8.

Nine Arkansans have filed a federal lawsuit saying the Department of Health and Human Services 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.

Kevin De Liban, an attorney with Legal Aid of Arkansas, said in November that 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 then that he hoped the case would be decided by March 31.