53 years after the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, some advocates in Arkansas say proposed budget cuts are making the future of the programs unsure.
Medicare, a national health insurance program for the elderly and those with disabilities, and Medicaid, a joint federal and state program that helps with medical costs for low-income people, are utilized by some 120 million Americans currently.
The programs have come to national prominence with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which offers expanded Medicaid coverage to about 12 million Americans.
Arkansas’s Medicaid expansion program, known as Arkansas Works, recently added a requirement that recipients either work, seek a job, or complete 80 hours of job-related activity per month to qualify for coverage. Recipients must also report those hours online and have an email address.
Advocates like Donna Massey, chair of Arkansas Community Organizations, spoke out against the work requirement at a Medicare/Medicaid birthday party demonstration outside the Governor’s Mansion Monday evening.
"I want to see people lifted out of poverty because I work every day. So I would love to see people work that can work," Massey said. "But there are ways to do that, and sometimes you have to sit down at the table and talk to people in the community… and they can possibly help you and give you advice as to what steps need to be taken."
A statement from the Arkansas Department of Human Services, which oversees Arkansas Works, said 7,041 of about 27,000 enrollees subject to the requirement did not met the state’s reporting rules for the first month it was required.
"At DHS, we recognize that Medicaid provides important services for people in this state," the statement said. "We're trying to do our part to ensure the program is sustainable and available for those who need it in the years to come."
Additionally, 433 enrollees who had not met the reporting requirement initially had their cases closed in June for reasons unrelated to the requirement, according to DHS spokeswoman Marci Manley.
"In regard to the work requirement, the goal is that individuals will get engaged with the workforce and their communities and hopefully move up the economic ladder," the statement continues. "In turn, we hope that results in them being able to better their circumstances so that they don’t need to rely on the program for those services."
On the federal level, a $1.3 trillion reduction in spending on Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act would come as a result of Pres. Donald Trump’s tax plan and proposed budget, according to a study released by The Alliance for Retired Americans, Americans for Tax Fairness, and Health Care For America Now.
In Arkansas, figures released by DHS show a $22 million reduction in Medicaid and Arkansas Works spending since the 2017 fiscal year 2017, toward an overall goal of $835 million by the 2021 fiscal year set by the state Health Care Task Force.
Following the demonstration at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion, 14 protesters began the 1,000-plus mile journey to Washington, D.C. to voice their concerns over the future of Medicare and Medicaid.
Loretta Fudoli, who was present at the Little Rock domonstration, said she has the same expectations of this latest trip to the nation’s capital than those of previous demonstrations.
"We expect to make an impact, to get with other people in unity who [are] fighting for the same thing," Fudoli said. "We’re willing to give up our life to go. I’m giving up that so that I can go and try to make a difference for others."