Fed­eral ad­vi­sory panel calls for pause on Arkansas Med­ic­aid re­quire­ments

The Sentinel-Record - - HOT SPRINGS/FYI -

LIT­TLE ROCK — A fed­eral ad­vi­sory panel is urg­ing the U.S. De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices to tem­po­rar­ily stop Arkansas from en­forc­ing the state’s work re­quire­ment for Med­ic­aid ex­pan­sion en­rollees.

The Med­ic­aid and CHIP Pay­ment and Ac­cess Com­mis­sion sent a let­ter to the de­part­ment on Thurs­day ex­press­ing con­cern about the num­ber of Arkansas res­i­dents who have lost health cov­er­age be­cause they failed to com­ply with the re­quire­ment that they go on­line to re­port ef­forts to look for work, the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette re­ported. The com­mis­sion cited con­cerns that some en­rollees may be strug­gling to re­port be­cause they don’t have ac­cess to the In­ter­net.

Arkansas im­ple­mented the re­quire­ment in June for en­rollees in Arkansas Works, a pro­gram that cov­ers res­i­dents who be­came el­i­gi­ble for Med­ic­aid when the state ex­tended the in­come-level thresh­old in 2014. These en­rollees, with in­comes of up to 138 per­cent of the poverty level, must spend 80 hours a month on work or ap­proved ac­tiv­i­ties and re­port it on­line to the state.

En­rollees who fail to com­ply for three months dur­ing a year

lose their Med­ic­aid cov­er­age and are barred from re-en­rolling for the rest of the year. More than 8,400 peo­ple lost their cov­er­age in Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber due to the rule.

The com­mis­sion is call­ing for a pause in dis­en­roll­ment to mod­ify the pro­gram.

“The low level of re­port­ing is a strong warn­ing sig­nal that the cur­rent process may not be struc­tured in a way that pro­vides in­di­vid­u­als an op­por­tu­nity to suc­ceed, with high stakes for ben­e­fi­cia­ries who fail,” wrote Penny Thomp­son, chair­man of the com­mis­sion, which was cre­ated by Congress to make pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions for low-in­come health care pro­grams.

In Septem­ber, only about 1,530 met the re­quire­ment by re­port­ing their hours, while about 16,535 failed to re­port any ac­tiv­i­ties.

Thomp­son said that the lack of In­ter­net ac­cess could be hin­der­ing the state’s ef­forts to in­form en­rollees about the re­quire­ment. She also sug­gested that en­rollees may need help find­ing and keep­ing a job.

Arkansas Med­ic­aid Di­rec­tor Dawn Stehle said last month that the com­mis­sion’s “at­tempt to es­tab­lish it­self as a mon­i­tor over in­di­vid­ual state Med­ic­aid pro­grams is a new and slip­pery path that should be re­con­sid­ered.”

A spokesman for the Cen­ters for Medi­care and Med­ic­aid Ser­vices said the agency and the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices de­part­ment had no com­ment on the com­mis­sion’s let­ter.

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