Terminations new obstacle in Arkansas’ private option debate

  • By ANDREW DeMILLO
  • Tuesday, August 11, 2015 7:14pm
  • Opinion

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s decision to temporarily halt efforts to drop thousands from Arkansas’ Medicaid program shows the challenge of balancing rhetoric about reforming the program with the reality that so many of the state’s residents are now relying on it.

It’s also a prelude to the tough choices he and lawmakers will face as they look at the future of the more than 200,000 low-income residents covered by the state’s compromise Medicaid expansion.

Hutchinson on Tuesday said the state would stop, for two weeks, sending termination notices to Medicaid recipients who haven’t responded to attempts to verify their eligibility for the program. The state has already dropped more than 35,000 people from Medicaid rolls, and another 13,000 have been told their coverage will end later this month.

“It’s important that we do this eligibility determination, and it’s important that we get it right,” Hutchinson said at a news conference at the state Capitol. “It is important we do it efficiently but also fairly.”

The state Department of Human Services has been checking the eligibility of nearly 600,000 on the state’s Medicaid program, including those on the “private option” expansion that’s been continued for another year. If officials find someone’s income has changed by 10 percent, they’re sent a notice to verify their eligibility using paycheck stubs or other documents within 10 days. They’re sent a notice terminating coverage if they don’t respond within the 10 days or they’re found ineligible.

It’s a move that’s prompted a backlash from health advocates and some lawmakers, who say they’re hearing stories of people being kicked off the program even though they’re still eligible. House Democrats on Friday asked Hutchinson to extend the deadline to 30 days.

Hutchinson said he doesn’t plan on extending the deadline to respond, even though the federal government allows states to give beneficiaries up to 30 days. Instead, he’s lifted a hiring freeze so DHS can bring in 35 new workers and is reassigning 20 others to deal with the flood of paperwork coming in from people trying to avoid having their coverage dropped. He’s also authorized overtime for DHS to deal with the backlog.

“The challenge is not the 10-day notice requirement. The challenge is processing the information whenever the beneficiary sends in the income verification or the payroll stubs they have,” Hutchinson said.

The backlog of termination notices comes as Hutchinson and lawmakers are trying to figure out what to do with the future of the “private option,” which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for the poor.

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