Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced a new partnership with the Central Arkansas Library System to help Arkansas Works recipients comply with their work requirement Tuesday (March 26) – the same week a Washington, D.C., judge has said he will rule on the legality of that requirement.
Hutchinson made the announcement along with Nate Coulter, CALS executive director.
“Our objective in Arkansas Works is to make sure that everybody who’s entitled to coverage has coverage. We want them to have that,” Hutchinson said.
Coulter said CALS reached out to Hutchinson’s administration after the library realized it could help beneficiaries comply with the online reporting requirement. Staff members said few beneficiaries have asked the library for help.
After training sessions with Department of Human Services staff members, all 14 of the CALS branches have someone prepared to help. Those staff members can help set up an account on the Access Arkansas work portal, help beneficiaries navigate the portal, and call DHS if more assistance is needed. Another 100 staff members have taken a quiz to see if they can communicate with beneficiaries about the requirement.
Moreover, the library has computers and scanners to send supporting documents to the department.
Coulter said CALS could help libraries in other cities provide similar services.
Originally known as the “private option,” Arkansas Works was created by legislators and Gov. Mike Beebe’s administration in 2013. It came about 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.
A total of 235,962 individuals were enrolled March 1 in the program.
Under a waiver obtained by the state from the Trump administration, individuals are required to work 80 hours per month or engage in other activities such as job training unless they are exempt. Those who fail to meet the requirement three months in a calendar year are subject to losing their coverage unless they are granted a good cause request.
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.
The case was heard March 14, by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, as reported March 15 by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Boasberg blocked Kentucky’s work requirement last June. He has said he plans to rule on the Arkansas and Kentucky cases by the end of the month.
Asked about that lawsuit, Hutchinson said, “I’m hopeful and optimistic that he’ll rule in our favor, but also recognize he was the same judge that struck down the Kentucky work requirement. From the hearing that he conducted, he seemed open-minded on it. He asked very good questions. We’re just awaiting the decision, and I don’t want to presuppose what happens based upon that decision.
“There’s obviously appeal opportunities. There’s obviously evaluation of where we are, but I see Arkansas Works as something that the Arkansas members of the General Assembly have growing confidence in because of the controls that we have in place, the greater integrity in the system.”
If the judge meets that deadline, it would affect all of the Arkansas Works recipients nearing their third month of failing to meet the requirement. So far, 6,472 have failed to meet the requirement for two months.
It also could become an issue as the Arkansas Legislature considers funding DHS’ Division of Medical Services, which administers the program. Opponents in the past have tried to kill the program by denying the division’s funding. Funding bills require 75% support in both the House and the Senate.
Hutchinson said in a meeting with reporters in his office Monday that he expects legislators to approve the Division of Medical Services’ funding, but he has not done a head count.
Arkansas Works could be affected by another court case involving Arkansas. According to media reports, the Justice Department has filed a legal brief in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals urging that the entire Affordable Care Act be struck down.
The case, Texas v. United States, involves an appeal of a Texas judge’s ruling that the ACA is unconstitutional. That decision rested on the removal in December 2017 of the ACA’s individual mandate penalty for failing to purchase private health insurance. That removal was part of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. The U.S. Supreme Court had used the penalty to rule the act constitutional in 2013, reasoning that the penalty is a “tax.”
A Texas-led coalition of 20 states, including Arkansas under Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, sued arguing that without the penalty, there’s no tax, which means Obamacare itself is no longer constitutional. Texas Judge Reed O’Connor agreed.
The Justice Department’s legal filing represents a change from its original position, which was that only part of the law was unconstitutional.
Hutchinson said the change did not surprise him. He said the case will eventually be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“If the ACA is struck down, then the question is what do you replace it with?” he said. “And I’ve always said if Congress is going to change from the ACA, we have to know what is the option, what direction are we going to go, and I’ve urged them to develop a system that gives the states more flexibility and which allows us to continue an Arkansas Works-type initiative, but to manage with more flexibility from a state standpoint.”
Hutchinson said if a court decision permanently invalidated the ACA, then the urgency and inevitability of change would force Congress to act and create that replacement.