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Medicaid turns 57; Arkansans urged to update contact information

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Daniel Breen
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KUAR News
Volunteers with Arkansas Community Organizations hold signs Wednesday celebrating the anniversary of Medicaid in front of the Arkansas Department of Human Services office on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Little Rock.

Advocates for access to affordable healthcare are celebrating the 57th anniversary of the Medicaid program.

Organizers with Arkansas Community Organizations on Wednesday delivered cupcakes to employees of the state Department of Human Services in recognition of the key program. It began under President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 and now serves as many as 74 million low-income and disabled Americans.

Speaking outside the office on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Little Rock, the group's Loriee Evans said it’s important to celebrate the program which provides healthcare coverage for roughly a third of all Arkansans.

“DHS has some 7,000 employees, they are working hard, they’re understaffed, sometimes they’re undertrained and under-resourced, and they are, however, getting healthcare coverage to 1 million Arkansans,” Evans said. “They are doing important work, and even when there are changes that need to be made to make services better, we have to acknowledge that meaningful, important work is being done.”

Evans says as many as 300,000 of the roughly 1 million Arkansans receiving Medicaid could lose coverage if the federal COVID-19 public health emergency ends in October.

DHS spokesperson Gavin Lesnick says Medicaid recipients should be prepared to renew their coverage should the federal government choose not to renew the emergency declaration.

“During the COVID-19 emergency rules for eligibility have been relaxed, so many people who otherwise would lose their Medicaid coverage have not lost it, but that will change when the COVID-19 emergency ends,” Lesnick said. “It will be important for clients to renew their Medicaid coverage, and we’re really working to get the word out and let people know that Medicaid clients need to update their contact information.”

Lesnick says the federal government will give states a 60-day warning in mid-August if they choose not to renew the public health emergency, which is currently set to expire in October. Arkansas Medicaid recipients can update their contact information by going to ar.gov/update, or by calling (844) 872-2660.

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter, anchor and producer for KUAR.