The Arkansas Department of Human Services says it's expanding an existing "helpline" to allow certain recipients of the state's Medicaid expansion program to report their 80 hours of work or work-related activity per month.
DHS announced the change Wednesday after more than 12,000 enrollees in the program, known as Arkansas Works, lost their health insurance coverage for failing to comply with the work requirement for three consecutive months.
Beginning Dec. 19, beneficiaries can report work hours and seek help with reporting by calling (855) 372-1084.
In a statement, DHS Director Cindy Gillespie said the change is a result of numerous concerns from enrollees and policy analysts.
"We are six months into this new Medicaid demonstration program, but wanted [to] take the time now to access what areas we need to shore up or improve," Gillespie said. "Though enrollees have had the ability to report by phone through carriers, friends, and registered reporters, we felt it was important to expand that option before we roll the next group into the work and community engagement requirement."
Last June, Arkansas became the first state in the nation to implement a requirement for certain able-bodied beneficiaries to report their work hours through a website, or face losing coverage after three months of non-compliance.
Critics have said the website is difficult to use and is restrictive for those without reliable internet access. In a statement, Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Michael John Gray said expanding reporting options is a step in the right direction.
"I would say to the governor, 'keep going.' It doesn't go far enough in making sure that people who are eligible for Medicaid aren't getting kicked off arbitrarily," Gray said.
The department has said in the past that the website-only reporting requirement was designed to save money while boosting enrollees' computer literacy.
"We're looking at opportunities to reach the Arkansas Works enrollees and looking for different ways to do that," DHS spokeswoman Marci Manley said. "So this is one more tool in the tool belt in addition to emails, text messages, social media and the letters that have been sent... so that hopefully they'll know about their options to report, and what they need to report and will be able to be successful."
Like the website, the DHS helpline will only accept work hours from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week. Enrollees subject to the work requirement can still report their hours through the website or through a "Registered Reporter" designated to report work hours on their behalf.
Arkansas's work requirement was approved by the Trump administration in June, making it the first state in the nation to implement such a requirement. An ongoing lawsuit against the state could be ruled on in early 2019.