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National health advocacy groups ask governor to pause Medicaid disenrollment process

The office of the Arkansas Department of Human Service in Little Rock.
The office of the Arkansas Department of Human Service in Little Rock.

A coalition of 23 national health-related nonprofits expressed concern Thursday (May 11) over Arkansas’ early Medicaid disenrollment numbers and called on Gov. Sarah Sanders to pause the process.

The governor’s office said it is following state and federal law and has a systematic plan to evaluate and assist those whose Medicaid healthcare coverage is being redetermined.

The 23 groups (listed below) include the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association, March of Dimes, and Susan G. Komen.

Arkansas’ Medicaid program announced Monday (May 8) that it had disenrolled 72,802 individuals – the first major removal in three years that is occurring because of the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency [PHE]. The most common reason for closing a case was the failure of recipients to return their renewal forms.

DHS this month started making the removals as a result of the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act, signed into law by President Biden last December. It allowed states after March 31 to begin dropping Medicaid recipients who are no longer eligible, a process known as “unwinding.” Normal eligibility rules, set by Congress and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, resumed April 1. All beneficiaries who have not had a renewal in the last 12 months will be redetermined. State law requires that the work be completed in six months.

Calling the “high rate” of procedural terminations “unacceptable and cause for alarm,” the 23 groups requested the Sanders’ administration to halt the process and review what may be causing the number of removals.

“As organizations that represent and advocate for patients and their families, we are deeply concerned about tens of thousands of Arkansans unnecessarily facing gaps in insurance coverage or becoming uninsured longer-term. For children and people with serious, acute and chronic conditions, continuous coverage is critical for successful treatment and quality of life,” a statement from the coalition said.

“Our organizations call upon the Sanders administration to pause the redeterminations process and conduct a thorough analysis of issues and problems that might be preventing Arkansans from receiving and completing their paperwork. It is imperative that the Sanders administration and the Department of Human Services evaluate this troubling report and determine why the percentage of administrative issues is so high before continuing the redetermination process,” it added.

Alexa Henning, communications director for Gov. Sanders, said the Department of Human Services has met with a broad range of providers and organizations to explain and seek help with the redetermination process. She said the national groups did not seek to participate in those meetings.

“It’s unfortunate these organizations are irresponsibly gaslighting to create fear amongst the public. Arkansas is following federal and state law – every state must come into compliance with normal eligibility rules since President Biden ended the federal public health emergency and states cannot stop the process. DHS began messaging to beneficiaries to prepare for the end of the PHE in April 2022 – more than a year ago. They are using every tool to make sure people who are eligible remain covered and working to ensure that those who are no longer eligible can get coverage through their job or the healthcare marketplace,” Henning said.

DHS officials have said qualifying individuals who lost coverage – many because they didn’t return the renewal form – can be reinstated during a current grace period, and those who continue to qualify can rejoin the program later.

The 23 national groups signing onto the call for pausing the disenrollment process in Arkansas include:
American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network
American Diabetes Association
American Heart Association
American Kidney Fund
American Lung Association
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation
Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
Epilepsy Foundation
Hemophilia Federation of America
Immune Deficiency Foundation
Lupus Foundation of America
March of Dimes
National Health Council
National Hemophilia Foundation
National Kidney Foundation
National Multiple Sclerosis Society
National Organization for Rare Disorders
National Psoriasis Foundation
Pulmonary Hypertension Association
Susan G. Komen
The AIDS Institute
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Editor’s note: Steve Brawner contributed to this article.

Roby Brock is the Editor-in-Chief and Host of Talk Business & Politics.