Unless there has been a rush of people this week who successfully logged on to a state website before a 9 p.m. deadline Thursday, thousands of Arkansas Works enrollees will be out of compliance with a newly-enacted work requirement.
Marci Manley, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, says that of the 8,534 people who needed to check in, as of June 29, only 370 had reported that they were in compliance. If the enrollees fail to report their information for three months over a 12-month period, she says they will lose their healthcare coverage.
"The first individuals that could lose coverage for non-compliance with the work requirement would be after June, July and August. They would have to be non-compliant for all three of those months before their cases and coverage would close," Manley said.
The work requirement was one of several changes Gov. Asa Hutchinson has successfully implemented to the state's Medicaid-expansion program. Enrollees must report their work activities or show why they should be exempt.
Hours before Thursday's deadline, Hutchinson defended the change, calling the online verification process "very simple" and a way to know who is truly qualified.
Marquita Little, health policy director for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, says the large number of enrollees who have not reported their activities and are expected to be out of compliance shows that a significant number of people are having difficulty with the new requirement.
"These types of eligibility standards can make the entire process of enrolling in coverage and maintaining your coverage very difficult. The nature of how the reporting has to occur through the electronic portal poses significant challenges for a lot of Arkansans who have limited internet access," Little said.
DHS has been working to train social workers and provide information to advocacy groups to share with people being impacted by the work requirement. Little said the final numbers will show the success or failure of those outreach efforts.
"It will give us some insight into maybe the ease or difficulty people are having with either meeting the requirement or understanding the portal or electronic system that they'll have to use in order to qualify for an exemption," Little said.
Homeless and low income people will be impacted, she said, by having limited or no access to the internet. Others may just not understand what they need to do or be willing to spend the needed time to complete the process.
Hutchinson told reporters Thursday that it makes sense to him that the number of people receiving Arkansas Works benefits will decline and that there could be many reasons enrollees are out of compliance.
"If they don’t respond, it might be because they've gotten a new job and they're not going to bother with it anymore. When they don’t respond, it might be because they moved out of state. It might be because their spouse had insurance," Hutchinson said.
"We are wondering, 'Do you still need the insurance? Have your circumstances changed? Contact us and verify it.' If they don’t contact us, that could mean that they are no longer in need of it.”
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved Arkansas' work requirement in March. Enrollees must spend 80 hours a month on work or other approved activities. The requirement went into effect June 1 for an initial group of 27,000 between the ages of 30 and 49.
Of those, 16,000 qualified for automatic exemptions based on information in state records.