Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care CEO Ray Hanley, a former Medicaid director for the state, said the lifting of the pandemic emergency order was “pretty inevitable,” but he warns that a backslide is still possible.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday (May 20) said he would end his 14-month long COVID-19 emergency order on May 30.
“I think it was time and pretty inevitable. I think people have COVID fatigue. Nobody wants to wear masks again,” Hanley said in an interview with Talk Business & Politics. “We’ve got about half the eligible population vaccinated or close to it and are all working hard on that. I think, emergency or not, we’ve still got to push really hard on the vaccination front.”
AFMC has been pushing vaccinations through pop-up clinics and will be launching a school outreach project in East Arkansas in the near future to reach those 12-and-up who are eligible. Hanley said despite nearing 50% vaccinations among the public, there are still groups hesitant to get a shot.
“It’s still rural areas. It’s still a population that is consuming too much misinformation on the vaccine. And I think there’s some lulled complacency here that we’re sort of on the bubble if you look at the numbers last week. With the variants out there looming, we have got to push really, really hard to get more people vaccinated or we’re in some risk of sliding back,” he warned.
Hanley was encouraged the Arkansas Legislature approved a new version of Medicaid expansion. He’s seen it evolve from the private option to Arkansas Works to ARHOME, the latest iteration.
“When you look around the South at all the states that have still refused to expand Medicaid – like Mississippi and Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Texas – I think we can be proud of Arkansas on that front. We’ve got Missouri, where the voters said expand it and the legislature said, ‘We’re not going to do it.’ So, I think Arkansas can feel good about that,” he said.
Hanley believes ARHOME will help rural hospitals and will provide incentives to encourage more individual participation. He said some of the more specifics the new program incorporates, such as infant mortality and help for veterans, will have a positive impact on health outcomes.
“This is a lesson in it’s not enough to give people coverage, just to give people an insurance card, particularly in a state as unhealthy as ours. The lower-income people, there’s a correlation obviously with poverty, have more challenges in accessing the healthcare system, and I think they’ve tried to address some of that,” he said. “Part of it comes from leadership from people like [Sen.] Missy Irvin and [Rep.] Michelle Gray that have a background in healthcare that helped draft some of this, working with DHS and the governor’s office.”
You can watch Hanley’s full interview in the video below.