Arkansas Prepares to Take Away Medicaid Coverage For Thousands of State Residents

By Suzanne Wikle

This week, Arkansas will become the first state to penalize people who depend on Medicaid for health insurance coverage but haven’t reported work hours under the state’s new “work requirement.” For more than 5,000 residents, that may result in an end of health care coverage.

Under the new rule enacted in June, Arkansas requires certain adults with Medicaid to work an average of 20 hours a week to maintain eligibility, unless they qualify for an exemption. If they don’t work the required number of hours—or are unable to report those hours through a state website - for any three months, they’ll be locked out of Medicaid for the remainder of the year.

Recent data from June and July 2018 show that 5,426 Arkansans were out of compliance with the new work requirements for both of those months. That’s approximately 1 in 5 people in the state identified as subject to the new requirements. They have until September 5 to report their August work hours, but the state could terminate their coverage on August 31. Those who fail to report by September 5 will be unable to re-enroll until January, regardless of whether they report work hours that meet the new rules.

The state compounded this misguided policy with an unfair reporting process. People can only report their work hours through an online system that is accessible during certain hours of the day (7am – 9pm). Many people will lose health insurance because of this red tape. It’s unclear how many working adults, at risk of losing their health insurance, have tried unsuccessfully to report their work hours.

According to Urban Institute, one in four Arkansans subject to the “work requirement” is currently employed but doesn’t have internet. In many cases, they also lack access to a vehicle and have less than a high school diploma. For those who are working and likely complying with Arkansas’s policy, this presents a significant barrier to meeting the state’s reporting requirement.

People subject to the “work requirement” who are not currently employed face even greater barriers to finding work. Seventy-eight percent have no internet access, no access to a vehicle, less than a high school education, a serious health limitation, or a household member with a serious health limitation. Taking away health insurance only adds another barrier. Indeed, there’s ample evidence that Medicaid helps people work by ensuring they’re healthy enough to hold down a job.

As residents feel the repercussions of Arkansas’s “work requirement,” advocates have filed a lawsuit to stop the state’s policy. A similar lawsuit in Kentucky halted that state’s “work requirement” program and lock-outs, at least temporarily. Unfortunately, it appears thousands of Arkansans will lose their health insurance before the courts weigh in.