Arkansas Democrats will focus on the statewide repeal of hundreds of thousands of Arkansas’ Medicaid coverage during the 2024 election cycle, party leaders said at a news conference Tuesday.
The state Department of Human Services did not do enough to ensure that people, especially children, were no longer eligible before revoking their health insurance, Grant Tennille, chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party, told reporters.
DHS spent six months reviewing the eligibility of Medicaid beneficiaries whose coverage was extended for three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, even if they no longer qualified for benefits due to income or other eligibility limits.
More than 184,500 Of the roughly 420,000 Arkansans who maintained coverage during the extension were dropped between April 1 and Sept. 30 because they didn’t provide the necessary eligibility information, according to data DHS has released every month since May.
More than 184,500 Arkansans were cut off from Medicaid in six months during post-pandemic eligibility review
Before taking away children’s health insurance, it’s best to know they’re not eligible, Tennille said. It shouldn’t be, well we can’t contact you so you’re not eligible.
The national Public Health Emergency (PHE) declared at the beginning of the pandemic ended on May 11. In April, DHS began rolling back the extension, unenrolling customers it deemed ineligible.
Some clients made too much money to qualify for Medicaid and others asked to be terminated, according to monthly DHS data reports.
DHS Secretary Kristi Putnam said in a statement Tuesday that she is excited to finally put the pandemic and special rules that were in place behind us so we can focus on serving Arkansans under normal eligibility operations. from now on.
She also said she is proud of DHS’s efforts to ensure that our program only serves those who truly need Medicaid.
Tennille said this is a lie based on the number of procedural cancellations.
To say that the only people left are those who actually need Medicaid, you either don’t understand the program you run or you are lying to the people of Arkansas, Tennille said.
Both Tennille and House Minority Leader Tippi McCullough, D-Little Rock, have called on elected Republicans, who control the Legislature and executive branch, to restore Medicaid coverage to recipients DHS has failed to reach.
We are already the state with the greatest need, and our policy for the past six months has been to deprive the very children most in need of health care, McCullough said. We have to fix this broken system.
Those who believe they are still eligible for Medicaid can reapply or seek more information via the DHS website or one DHS Questionnaire, said DHS communications chief Gavin Lesnick. They can also call 855-372-1084 to reach the department’s call center which will still be active after the closure.
Range and obstacles
More than 1 million Arkansans, about a third of the state’s population, were receiving Medicaid benefits as of early April. That number was 868,059 as of Oct. 1, Lesnick said.
DHS began contacting Medicaid customers who benefited from the coverage extension last year, before the reduction began. As of July 17, 2022, DHS has attempted to call 281,497 people whose coverage was extended due to PHE. Through these calls, the agency confirmed or updated 39,106 addresses, the Arkansas Advocate reported in August 2022.
Arkansas health officials and patients prepare for Medicaid eligibility review
Medicaid customers can also update their contact information by calling the Update Arkansas hotline at 1-844-872-2660 or visiting DHS Benefits Website.
DHS repeatedly called, texted and emailed Medicaid beneficiaries at many different points in the renewal timeline to try to obtain eligibility information, Lesnick said. The department also tried to reach people through snail mail, social media, community organizations, health care providers serving Medicaid clients and a call center run by DHS employees.
Some beneficiaries’ eligibility could be verified through automated renewals that involved passively checking data against existing verification sources rather than requiring beneficiaries to return any information, Lesnick said.
Putnam’s predecessor, Mark White, said in November 2022 that determining the eligibility of Medicaid clients would be difficult if they did not respond to DHS requests for information.
We don’t have a good way of knowing for these people if they are no longer eligible or if they simply haven’t responded to their renewals, White said.
Arkansas Community Organizations have held several protests this year airing complaints from Medicaid recipients not only about the rollout but also about the need for broader health care coverage program, a less complicated application process and better customer service.
Arkansas Medicaid beneficiaries share concerns with federal and state officials
Some Medicaid beneficiaries said they never received warning from DHS that their coverage was in jeopardy before losing it. Neil Sealy, an organizer with Community Organizations of Arkansas, reiterated this at Tuesday’s press conference.
In Augustorganizers wrote a letter to Daniel Tsai, director of the Center for Medicaid and the Childrens Health Insurance Program (CHIP) at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, asking him to work with Arkansas officials to improve the state’s administration of benefits.
The advocacy group delivered the letter to the offices of two U.S. senators from Arkansas, John Boozman and Tom Cotton.
Sealy said Tuesday that none of the senators responded to the letter and neither did Tsai.
Arkansas drew national attention this year for the number of procedural cancellations and planning to do it in just six monthsas required by a 2021 state law.
Arkansas Community Organizations petitioned DHS in March to include a one-year grace period in the override, without success.
States began their closure projects at different times, but Arkansas is the only state that planned to finish the project in less than nine months, according to a January 2023 survey from health policy researcher KFF.
Arkansas Medicaid beneficiaries seek DHS response to feedback, more time to confirm eligibility
High termination rates across the country during the rollback have been concerning to officials at the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Tsai said in a national conference call on June 14.
Most cancellations were for procedural reasons and largely due to people not responding to renewals, he said.
In August, Tsai asked some states to restore coverage for Medicaid customers who were terminated for procedural reasons, but Lesnick said the order did not apply to Arkansas.
Arkansas has one of the highest proportions of children in rural areas covered by Medicaid, according to a Georgetown University Study published in August.
About 35% of Medicaid clients canceled in Arkansas from April to July were children, according to data collected by KFF.
McCullough highlighted that a state agency would be able to locate and contact many Medicaid clients through their local schools if those clients had school-age children.
A 2014 state law prohibits DHS from soliciting or accepting funds, including federal funds, for purposes of advertising, promotion, or other activities designed to promote or encourage enrollment in state-administered health insurance programs.
Tennille said this law was a bad political choice. He added that the loss of Medicaid coverage for those who are eligible has a ripple effect on education, the economy and public safety.
Not treating people when they are sick, not providing preventative healthcare to people when they are young, will end up being costly. [the state] millions more than we would spend on Medicaid, he said.
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