Critics Blast Arkansas For Not Spending Enough Money To Tell Medicaid Enrollees About Work Requirements, But It’s Just That Nobody Answers The Phone Anymore

Evie Fordham | Politics and Health Care Reporter

Critics of Arkansas’s Medicaid work requirement claim the state did not spend enough money to inform enrollees about the program, despite its notifications via phone calls, emails, social media and more.

Most of the time, nobody picked up the phone or opened the email, employees at the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) lamented, according to The New York Times’s blog The Upshot.

“I was literally taking fliers to the urgent care clinic when I was taking my kids to get tested for strep,” Amy Webb of Arkansas DHS told The Upshot. “If there’s something we are not doing to reach people, if someone will tell us how to do that, we will do it.”

Only about 20 to 30 percent of the emails Arkansas DHS sent out were opened, reported The Upshot.

“You cannot have an incentive strategy that is allegedly designed to change people’s behavior if people are not aware of it,” Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown Center for Children and Families, told The Upshot.

Arkansas should have spent more money to spread the word, Alker said.

Critics also pointed out that the able-bodied enrollees subject to the requirement can only report their hours online, even though Arkansas is one of five states with the lowest internet access ranking, according to the U.S. News & World Report.

More than 4,300 Arkansas Medicaid enrollees lost coverage for the duration of 2018 “in the first month that it was possible for people to lose coverage for failing to comply,” reported The Upshot. Less than 5 percent of Arkansas’s Medicaid population is subject to work requirements, which can be satisfied through employment, volunteering or taking classes, according to Healthinsurance.org.

“We should encourage every able American to strive for better health and well-being through meaningful work and community engagement,” a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokesperson told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “While the program was only recently implemented, CMS is encouraged by the partnerships that Arkansas has fostered to connect Medicaid beneficiaries to work and educational opportunities. Ultimately, we want every individual subject to the requirement to have the opportunity to succeed, and look forward to continued collaboration with the state.”

Arkansas adopted a unique form of Medicaid expansion where the state uses federal money to buy private insurance in 2013. Now that Arkansas Works, the state’s Medicaid work requirement program, is live, enrollees face a three strikes system for failing to report their compliance each month, reported The Upshot.

Only about 1,200 of the approximately 20,000 people who had to report work hours met the requirement in August, according to the report. That is compared to more than 894,000 Arkansas residents enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program as of June. (RELATED: Author Dave Chase Discusses How The US Opioid Crisis Is A Byproduct Of A Broken Health Care System)

Arkansas is the only state implementing Medicaid work requirements after expanding Medicaid, but other states like Virginia could follow suit. Arkansas’s program could be in danger because of a federal lawsuit filed against the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Aug. 14, according to the Arkansas Times.

Follow Evie on Twitter @eviefordham.

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