Democrats criticize Arkansas’ shrinking Medicaid rolls

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(The Center Square) – The chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas criticized the removal of thousands of people from the state’s Medicaid rolls because they were unreachable.

The Arkansas Department of Human Services removed 427,459 people from the Medicaid rolls in the past six months, DHS Spokesman Gavin Lesnick told The Center Square.

Last month, 45,536 Medicaid cases were renewed while 53,553 were closed, DHS reported.

The most common reason for disenrollment in September was failure to return the renewal form. Over 21,600 people were disenrolled for this reason, according to the DHS report. The second most common reason was failure to return requested information, and the third most common was that DHS determined the household income was above the limit for eligibility. Another 3,646 people asked for closure of their cases, the report said.

“We ought to be able to say before we throw you off, we’re going to make sure you’re not eligible,” Chairman Grant Tennille said at a news conference. “Because the cost to the person you’re throwing off just because you couldn’t get in touch with them, to them personally, probably far outweighs what is costing us as a taxpayer to keep them on until we can make darn sure they shouldn’t have their health insurance taken away.”

Of the cases closed in September, 10,729 were enrolled in ARKids, the state’s Medicaid plan for children, and 6,714 were listed as newborns.

“Before you go taking health insurance away from children, you better know they’re not eligible. It shouldn’t be, ‘well we couldn’t get in touch with you so you’re not eligible.’ It should be, ‘if you were eligible once, until we can talk to you and truly determine your eligibility, we’re going to keep you on,'” said Tennille.

DHS could not remove ineligible people from Medicaid during the public health emergency due to COVID-19, which included a continuous enrollment requirement. When normal eligibility rules resumed in April, DHS began reevaluating its rolls. September was the final month of that “unwinding” process.

“Medicaid resources should go to Arkansans who qualify for them, and not for those who are ineligible,” said DHS Secretary Kristi Putnam. “I’m proud of the work that staff across our entire agency performed over the last six months to ensure that our program is serving only those who truly need Medicaid. And I’m excited to finally put the pandemic and the special rules that had been in place behind us so we can focus on serving Arkansans under normal eligibility operations going forward.”

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