Year ends with 18,164 removed by Arkansas Works work policy

by Steve Brawner (BRAWNERSTEVE@MAC.COM) 324 views 

Another 1,232 Arkansas Works cases were closed in December because recipients failed to comply with the program’s work requirement, bringing the total to 18,164 since the requirement took effect in June 2018, the Arkansas Department of Human Services reported Tuesday (Jan. 15).

Meanwhile, 966 individuals have applied for and gained coverage in 2019, and 963 of those are in Arkansas Works. All individuals who lost benefits in 2018 were eligible to reapply at the beginning of the year.

Individuals who do not comply with the requirement for a total of three months in a calendar year are removed from the program. A total of 4,776 did not meet the requirement in December, but all but 1,232 did not lose coverage because the year ended before they reached three months of noncompliance.

A total of 60,680 enrollees ages 30-49 were subject to the work requirement in December, and of those, 55,904 met the requirement. Most were exempt from reporting their activities because they were working or had other qualifying situations. Those included 25,089 who were employed more than 80 hours per month, 8,424 who were medically frail, and 6,469 who had a dependent child in the home. Another 10,244 were already exempt while participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Enrollees ages 19-29 will phase into the work requirement during the first six months of 2019.

The 1,232 represented 8% of the 15,981 Arkansas Works cases closed in December. The largest percentage, 36%, were closed for failing to return the requested information. Another 14% increased their household income beyond eligibility. In 12% of the closed cases, recipients couldn’t be found or had moved out of state.

DHS reported that it, the Department of Workforce Services, the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care and insurers made 230,307 phone calls to Arkansas Works recipients from April through December 2018. Other efforts included 592,102 letters; 311,934 emails; 38,766 text messages; and 918 social media posts.

DHS reported that 247,374 people were enrolled in Arkansas Works on Dec. 31, while 234,385 had been enrolled Dec. 1. The state was paying $566.67 in insurance premiums for most of the enrollees.

Originally known as the “private option,” Arkansas Works was created by legislators and Gov. Mike Beebe’s administration in 2013. It was created 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.

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