Thousands of Arkansas residents lose Medicaid coverage due to new work requirements

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Nearly 17,000 people lost healthcare coverage in 2018 for failing to comply with Arkansas’s new Medicaid work requirements, according to analysis of state data.

Under a law approved last year, Arkansas Works (Medicaid) recipients between the ages of 19 and 49 must work, go to school, or volunteer 80 hours a month to keep their benefits.

Arkansas is the first state in the nation to implement such a law, though the Trump administration has given approval to a handful of other states to do so as well.

The law is being rolled out in phases.

Enrollees ages 30 to 49-year-old were required to start reporting their monthly work activities in 2018. Enrollees ages 19 to 29-year-old will have to start doing the same by Feb. 5.

In September, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said the law balanced compassion with responsibility.

“We want to make sure that we are successful moving people into work and to give them the training,” said Hutchinson. “These are able-bodied people.”

Since that time, the state has kicked nearly 17,000 people off Medicaid for failing to report their work activities three months in a row.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, which has been tracking implementation of the law, released a report in December, describing what doomed most Arkansans who lost their coverage.

"Overall, we found people are very confused and that's not surprising because the new rules are complicated," said MaryBeth Musumeci, one of the authors of the report.

In addition to enrollees being unaware or confused by the new requirements, many had difficulty navigating the process to set up an online account.

Others also had to deal with spotty internet coverage in rural areas and were uncomfortable using a computer.

"These rules in particular are quite complicated in terms of having to set up your reporting each month and if you are exempt, there are different exemptions, so you have to have a pretty high degree of knowledge to successfully comply with the rules," said Musumeci.

But Amy Webb, the chief of communications and community engagement at the Arkansas State Department of Human Services, said state officials have been working hard to inform people about the requirements.

"We've made over 200,000 phone calls since this started, sent over 37,000 text messages to individuals. We sent 567,000 letters," said Webb.

Webb said the state also advertised the requirements on social media.

With a new set of enrollees (ages 19 to 29) required to report their work activities this year, the state is expanding its outreach. It’s also giving Arkansas Works enrollees more ways to report their monthly work activities.

They can call a special DHS Helpline at 1-855-372-1084 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.

They can also contact their insurance carrier or a Registered Reporter, which is someone who received online training through DHS.

Enrollees can also report online at www.access.arkansas.gov or visit their county DHS office in-person.

Arkansans enrolled in Medicaid who have a full-time job or job that satisfies that 80-hour a month work requirement don't need to do anything, because the state already collects their information elsewhere.

Medicaid enrollees 50 years and older are not impacted by the law.

Officials said people who were kicked off their coverage in 2018 can also reapply as of Jan. 1, 2019.

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