More than 31K Arkansans lost Medicaid coverage for procedural reasons in July

Total Arkansas Medicaid enrollment has gone down from more than 1 million to less than 916,000 since April, according to state data
Valencia White, right, talks about her concerns about Medicaid during an event in front of the Department of Human Services offices in downtown Little Rock Friday, March 24, 2023. White and other advocates for Medicaid recipients expressed concerns that people who are still eligible for coverage would lose it during the state’s “unwinding” of the coverage extension granted during the COVID-19 pandemic. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

More than 31,000 Arkansans who had their Medicaid coverage extended due to the pandemic were dropped from the program in July because they did not provide required eligibility information, the Arkansas Department of Human Services reported Tuesday.

DHS has now disenrolled more than 144,000 Arkansans four months into a six-month project to redetermine the eligibility of Medicaid recipients whose coverage was extended from March 2020 to May of this year. The nationwide Public Health Emergency (PHE) enacted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic ended May 11, and states have been “unwinding” the coverage extension since April.

The disenrolled clients either failed to return a Medicaid renewal form, failed to submit additional required information or were unable to be reached by the department, according to DHS.

July’s 31,359 disenrollments for these reasons were the lowest monthly total so far in the “unwinding.”

In total, 82,279 beneficiaries were disenrolled from the state Medicaid program in July. Of those, 9,837 now earn too much money to receive Medicaid, and 4,143 asked to be removed, DHS data show.

Additionally, 2,944 Medicaid recipients were dropped because they “did not meet the requirements for the program” in which they were previously enrolled, according to the report.

Gavin Lesnick, the Human Services Department’s communications chief, told the Advocate that 3,182 enrollees were unreachable in June and 1,126 in July.

DHS officials have also noted that some beneficiaries may not return the requisite paperwork when they know they are no longer entitled to benefits.

DHS data show 50,609 Arkansans had their Medicaid coverage renewed last month.

More than 1 million Arkansans, about a third of the state’s population, were receiving Medicaid benefits at the start of April. That number is 915,926 as of Aug. 1, according to Tuesday’s report. That is 55,438 fewer clients than on July 1.

Children have made up more than 40% of Arkansas Medicaid enrollees since July 1, according to DHS data.

Nearly 40% of the state’s disenrolled Medicaid clients in April and May were children, according to data collected by health policy researcher KFF, which has been tracking the Medicaid unwinding process nationwide.

“How the system is supposed to work”

DHS’ regular operations include annually assessing the eligibility of Medicaid clients who were not part of the pandemic-related coverage extension: 42,312 of these clients were disenrolled in July, according to DHS data.

In November, before the unwinding began, DHS officials suggested that all Medicaid recipients should ensure their contact information was up to date in the state’s system, either online, over the phone or at the DHS office in each county. Clients can still update their contact information by calling the Update Arkansas hotline at 1-844-872-2660 or visiting DHS’s benefits site.

The federal government’s pandemic relief measures allowed roughly 420,000 Medicaid enrollees in Arkansas to maintain coverage under the public health insurance program for more than three years, even if they no longer qualified for the benefit due to income or other eligibility limits.

DHS has confirmed the eligibility of more than 200,000 Arkansans whose coverage was extended, Human Services Secretary Kristi Putnam said in a statement.

“This is exactly how the system is supposed to work: we are ensuring that benefits remain available for Arkansans who truly need them, and we are also working to make sure those who no longer qualify know about available options for health care coverage,” Putnam said. “As we move forward, we remain committed to completing this redetermination process in a way that is both efficient and fair.”

Advocates, however, are concerned that some Arkansans who are still eligible for Medicaid could lose their coverage or have already lost it due to bureaucratic hurdles.

Many other states have one-year grace periods that started April 1, allowing Medicaid enrollees to confirm during that time whether they are still eligible for coverage, but a 2021 Arkansas law gives DHS six months to complete its eligibility review.

Arkansas Medicaid recipients, with the help of Arkansas Community Organizations, asked in March for a one-year grace period to no avail.

Organizers at a June rally outside the state Capitol said DHS does not always receive the requested information that recipients send by mail and that some clients have struggled to get their income recorded accurately in DHS’s system.

Medicaid recipients have also repeatedly petitioned DHS for broader health care coverage from the program, a less cumbersome application process and better customer service.

This story first appeared in Arkansas Advocate and is being republished through a Creative Commons License. See the original story here.

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