Fed­eral panel calls for pause on Arkansas Med­ic­aid rule

Texarkana Gazette - - METRO/STATE -

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 Med­ic­aid work re­quire­ment, amid con­cerns that some re­cip­i­ents may not have ac­cess to the in­ter­net that they need to re­port their work hours to the state.

Arkansas in June be­came the first state to im­ple­ment a Med­ic­aid work re­quire­ment af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump's ad­min­is­tra­tion said it would al­low states to re­quire peo­ple on its Med­ic­aid ex­pan­sion pro­grams to work or vol­un­teer. More than 8,400 Arkansas res­i­dents lost their cov­er­age in Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber be­cause they failed to com­ply with the re­quire­ment.

The Med­ic­aid and Chil­dren's Health In­sur­ance Pro­gram Pay­ment and Ac­cess Com­mis­sion sent a let­ter to the U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices on Thurs­day ex­press­ing con­cern about how many peo­ple have lost health cov­er­age, the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette re­ported.

The re­quire­ment ap­plies to peo­ple en­rolled in Arkansas Works, a pro­gram that cov­ers res­i­dents who be­came el­i­gi­ble for Med­ic­aid when the state ex­tended el­i­gi­bil­ity to res­i­dents with in­comes of up to 138 per­cent of the poverty level. En­rollees must spend 80 hours a month on work or ap­proved ac­tiv­i­ties—and they must re­port it on­line to the state. Those who fail to com­ply for three months dur­ing a year lose their cov­er­age and are barred from re-en­rolling for the rest of the year.

The com­mis­sion, which was cre­ated by Congress to make pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions for low-in­come health care pro­grams, is call­ing for a pause in dis­en­roll­ment to mod­ify the pro­gram.

Penny Thomp­son, chair­man of the com­mis­sion, wrote in her let­ter that the re­quire­ment to re­port through a web­site "may be chal­leng­ing for ben­e­fi­cia­ries given lim­ited in­ter­net ac­cess in the state and the mul­ti­stage process for es­tab­lish­ing an ac­count and en­ter­ing in­for­ma­tion." She also said en­rollees may need help find­ing and keep­ing a job.

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

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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