Arkansas drops 4,100 more from Medicaid over work rule

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas has nearly doubled the number of people removed from its expanded Medicaid program for not meeting a new work requirement, state officials said Monday, with more than 4,100 losing their health insurance under the restriction that’s the focus of a federal lawsuit.

The figures released by the state Department of Human Services show another 4,800 people will lose coverage if they don’t meet the work requirement by the end of this month.

Arkansas’ rule, which was implemented earlier this year, requires some beneficiaries to work 80 hours a month. Those beneficiaries lose coverage if they don’t meet the requirement for three months in a calendar year. The state last month announced more than 4,300 people lost coverage because of the requirement. More than 76,000 people on the program were subject to the requirement.

Arkansas was the first state to implement a Medicaid work requirement after the Trump administration said it would allow states to require participants to work to keep coverage. Kentucky was the first state to win approval for a work requirement, but a federal judge blocked the state from enforcing it. A similar challenge over Arkansas’ requirement is pending before the same judge.

“This is an absolute train wreck, and it is a slow-moving train wreck that the state can stop at any time,” said Sam Brooke, deputy legal counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of three groups that had sued Arkansas over the mandate. “Unfortunately, these numbers are exactly what we and everyone who was looking at this predicted would happen if this went into effect.”

The 80-hour work requirement only applies to the state’s Medicaid expansion, which uses federal and state funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents, and not the traditional Medicaid program. More than 250,000 people are on the state’s Medicaid expansion.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the requirement is connecting beneficiaries with jobs or job training.

“We have gone to great lengths to ensure that those who qualify for the program keep their coverage,” Hutchinson said in a statement released by his office. “Arkansas Works provides opportunities for individuals to gain employment or work training. It also allows us to concentrate resources on those who need it most rather than continuing to pay insurance premiums on those who no longer qualify.”

Opponents of the restriction have criticized its requirement that the hours worked be reported through a website, saying it penalizes poor people without access to the Internet. Beneficiaries can also call “registered reporters” at insurers or other groups to log in and report for them or use computers at DHS county offices.

“This negligent internet reporting policy jeopardizes our rural hospitals and their staff as thousands will be receiving uncompensated care after losing their health insurance,” said Jared Henderson, Hutchinson’s Democratic challenger in next month’s election. “Arkansans know that access to quality health care allows them to show up for work and provide for their families, and this internet requirement is a bureaucratic barrier to that success.”

In a debate with Henderson last week, Hutchinson defended the requirement and said the majority-GOP Legislature wouldn’t keep the expansion program without the mandate in place.