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Arkansas Medicaid disenrollment jumps to roughly 140,000

Representatives of the group Arkansas Community Organizations display signs with some of their demands for streamlining the Medicaid redetermination process in front of the Arkansas State Capitol on Thursday.
Daniel Breen
Representatives of the group Arkansas Community Organizations display signs with some of their demands for streamlining the Medicaid redetermination process in front of the Arkansas State Capitol on Thursday.

Arkansas’ overall Medicaid enrollment has dropped nearly 15% in two months with about 140,000 people deemed ineligible for coverage since April. A report released Thursday by the state Department of Human Services shows 68,838 people lost coverage in May.

States were not allowed to terminate Medicaid coverage during the federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, which ended in May. Arkansas began the process of re-determining eligibility in April, when roughly 72,000 recipients lost coverage.

The largest number of people to lose coverage in May were enrolled in ARHOME, the state's Medicaid expansion program. That was followed by ARKids A, which serves children from the lowest-income families in the state.

In both cases, the majority of closures were among people whose health insurance coverage was automatically renewed during the COVID-19 emergency. Roughly half of those who lost coverage in May did not return a renewal form sent to them by DHS.

Earlier Thursday, community advocates met in front of the Arkansas State Capitol to share their experiences attempting to re-enroll in the state’s Medicaid program. Crystal Alexander-Berry with the group Arkansas Community Organizations said DHS mistakenly thought she made too much money to qualify for Medicaid.

"I was only making $1,300 at a job, and they put that I was making twice as much. And they said they were going to cut off my Medicaid due to me making too much income," she said. "It's a glitch in the system that's knocking people off."

The income limit to receive expanded Medicaid coverage in Arkansas is 138% of the federal poverty level, or about $20,000 annual income for a single person. Pine Bluff resident Michelle Perry said DHS mistakenly identified her daughter as a foreign national.

"They said, 'We are so sorry, it was a glitch in the system.' Really? And you cut us off... they wanted to cut my two boys off, but because they were on Social Security, they couldn't," Perry said. "I hope they do something different with this."

A survey of roughly 400 Medicaid recipients by Arkansas Community Organizations found about 45% of respondents faced challenges when trying to access healthcare services covered by Medicaid. Advocates also criticized the six-month timeline set by state lawmakers for DHS to complete the redetermination process for roughly 1 million Medicaid recipients.

Loretta Alexander, Health Policy Director with Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said enrollees in the state’s ARHOME Medicaid expansion program sometimes receive private health insurance, also known as Qualified Health Plans, from companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield. She says that can lead to confusion.

"So they don't even realize that they're on Medicaid. And so that's a big issue, DHS is going to have to alert people... if you're in ARHOME and you're getting your coverage through Blue Cross, make sure that you send the information back to DHS if you get a letter," Alexander said.

Alexander urges Medicaid recipients to turn in requested information to DHS, even if the deadline has passed. Just over a million Arkansans receive health insurance coverage through the state’s Medicaid program.

In an email Thursday, DHS representatives said enrollees' eligibility is verified "wherever possible" through an automated process which does not require any new information to be submitted. Those who must submit new information are given multiple notices, according to the department.

"The disenrollments announced today follow more than a year of outreach leading up to the end of the [Public Health Emergency], during which DHS made calls to recipients, met with numerous providers, partners, and stakeholder groups, conducted awareness campaigns about the need to update addresses and watch for renewal letters, engaged paid advertising, and more," the statement reads.

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.