The thousands of people who lost Medicaid coverage this month in Arkansas for not following newly implemented work requirements may be a sign of what’s to come in other GOP-led states.
Indiana and New Hampshire are slated to implement their Medicaid work requirements next year, and a slew of other states are awaiting approval from the Trump administration.
Arkansas has served as a test case of sorts since it was the first state to implement work requirements, and this month it became the first state to kick off beneficiaries for not following them.
The state removed more than 4,000 people from the Medicaid rolls, with some estimates saying that number could climb to 50,000 when the requirements are fully implemented in 2019.
“I think other states should be thinking seriously about the warnings that Arkansas’ experience has for their states,” said Erin Brantley, a senior research associate at George Washington University’s Milken Institute of Public Health.
While many people in Arkansas’ program are exempt from reporting their activities to the state because they’re already working, others are not, meaning they need to file monthly reports through an online portal to show they are meeting the requirements.
Of those who lost coverage this month, about 95 percent didn’t file the necessary documents with the state. That led to their removal from Medicaid, though some may have been working working the required 80 hours a month.
It’s unclear why those participants didn’t file reports, especially if they were working, though some say it could be due to confusion, an inability to access a computer or general unawareness about the new requirements.
The state said it conducted “extensive” outreach that included sending more than 136,000 letters and emails and making more than 150,000 phone calls from April through August.
“It seems that [the state] is doing some outreach, but a lot of individuals still don’t know about the new requirements and are not setting up their accounts,” said Robin Rudowitz, associate director of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s program for Medicaid and the uninsured.
“There are many lessons to be learned about online reporting, and communication, and having individuals understand what the requirements are,” Rudowitz said. “The changes to these programs are difficult to communicate.”
In a report published in the journal Health Affairs this month, the author conducted interviews with 18 Medicaid recipients in northeast Arkansas and found that a dozen had not heard about the state’s new requirements.
Seema Verma, head of the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is responsible for reviewing state requests for work requirements, characterized Arkansas’ recent removal of Medicaid recipients as a positive step.
“I’m excited by the partnerships that Arkansas has fostered to connect Medicaid beneficiaries to work and educational opportunities, and I look forward to our continued collaboration as we thoroughly evaluate the results of their innovative reforms,” Verma said in a tweet the same day that 4,000 recipients lost coverage.
The work requirements have prompted lawsuits in Kentucky and Arkansas by advocates who say they are harmful to those in need. The judge that blocked a similar program in Kentucky earlier this year will also preside over the Arkansas case.
The Trump administration says “able-bodied” adults on Medicaid should work if they’re able to. In all three states, the work requirements apply only to those who gained coverage through ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion, which allowed for covering more low-income adults.
It’s unclear how the work requirements will impact beneficiaries in Indiana and New Hampshire when they are rolled out next year, but both states are planning to rescind coverage for those who don’t meet the new work rules.
Beneficiaries in Indiana will have to work at least eight months each year, and an 80-hour-a-month requirement will be gradually phased in over an 18-month period. Compliance with the requirements will be checked annually instead of monthly, like in Arkansas.
New Hampshire beneficiaries subject to the new requirements must work 100 hours a month beginning in January. Enrollees who don’t meet the threshold for one month will have their coverage suspended.
Some argue that the true purpose of Medicaid work requirements is to cut spending for the federal program, a priority of conservatives for years.
“This policy is clearly not designed to help people find work. It’s designed to take them off Medicaid,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the Center for Children and Families at the Georgetown University School of Public Policy, referring to the Arkansas policy.
“It’s nothing to do with promoting work, supporting work — it’s about creating red tape for folks who are not able to jump over these bureaucratic hurdles for one reason or another — no internet access, they may not know, may be homeless, may not get the letter,” she said. “Those are the ones that will lose coverage.”