LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas has nearly doubled the number of people removed from its expanded Medicaid program for not meeting a new work requirement, state officials said Monday, with more than 4,100 losing their health insurance under the restriction that’s the focus of a federal lawsuit.
The figures released by the state Department of Human Services show another 4,800 people will lose coverage if they don’t meet the work requirement by the end of this month.
Arkansas’ rule, which was implemented earlier this year, requires some beneficiaries to work 80 hours a month for three months in a calendar year. The state last month announced more than 4,300 people lost coverage because of the requirement. More than 76,000 people on the program were subject to the requirement.
Arkansas was the first state to implement a Medicaid work requirement after the Trump administration said it would allow states to require participants to work to keep coverage. Kentucky was the first state to win approval for a work requirement, but a federal judge blocked the state from enforcing it. A similar challenge over Arkansas’ requirement is pending before the same judge.
“This is an absolute train wreck, and it is a slow-moving train wreck that the state can stop at any time,” said Sam Brooke, deputy legal counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of three groups that had sued Arkansas over the mandate. “Unfortunately, these numbers are exactly what we and everyone who was looking at this predicted would happen if this went into effect.”
The work requirement only applies to the state’s Medicaid expansion, which uses federal and state funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents, and not the traditional Medicaid program.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the requirement is connecting beneficiaries with jobs or job training.
“We have gone to great lengths to ensure that those who qualify for the program keep their coverage,” Hutchinson said in a statement released by his office. “Arkansas Works provides opportunities for individuals to gain employment or work training. It also allows us to concentrate resources on those who need it most rather than continuing to pay insurance premiums on those who no longer qualify.”
Hutchinson is seeking re-election next month and defended the mandate in a debate last week with Democratic challenger Jared Henderson, who has criticized the requirement and the state’s rollout of it. Hutchinson said the majority-GOP Legislature wouldn’t keep the expansion program without the requirement in place.
In a news release issued late Monday afternoon, Henderson said: “I believe our governor should prioritize making it easier to access affordable health care, not harder. Last week, Asa Hutchinson admitted he was unable to lead his own Republican supermajority in the state legislature to reauthorize Medicaid expansion unless he included this internet requirement, which has received national recognition for its failure and disastrous consequences for Arkansas and our families. We should demand a better standard of leadership for our state.”
Once fully implemented, Arkansas’ requirement will affect able-bodied enrollees on the program, aged 19 to 49 years old, with no children. The requirement is being enforced on participants ages 30 to 49 this year and will expand to include those 19 to 29 years old next year.