SPECIAL REPORT: Are Arkansas Work Requirements Actually Working?

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NORTHWEST ARKANSAS, Ark. (KFTA) — Over 18,000 Arkansans have lost their health insurance due to the state’s experimental work requirement for certain Medicaid beneficiaries. 

In June, Arkansas became the first state to implement a work requirement in its Arkansas Works Medicaid program.

Unless you’re exempt, enrollees must report 80 hours of work or other qualifying activities each month to the DHS.

The state phased in the requirement last year for enrollees age 30 to 49.

In 2019, enrollees ages 19 to 29 will have to do the same.

“Despite odds against it, despite enormous criticism, compassion and common sense says that this is a good program for those that are trying to move up the economic ladder and to better themselves,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said.

Some enrollees, though, say there have been obstacles.

Brandon Chase Goldsmith is an adjunct professor at the University of Arkansas Fort Smith, but you can find him at a coffee shop grading his students work.

“Two months when I was reporting my work, the system was down,” Goldsmith said. “Someone with a Ph.D who has access to multiple computers and multiple computer systems, you can only imagine what someone who doesn’t have — maybe they’re poor, maybe they don’t have access to computer.”

Goldsmith is on Arkansas Works, and his frustrations with the system started with the functionality of the website.

“People could not update their contact information, that means that people were not getting their notices for non-compliance or any other important notices that people weren’t getting,” Goldsmith said.

He says this glitch has since been fixed, but not before causing a headache.

Robin Rudowitz is an Associate Director for the Program on Medicaid and the Uninsured at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, D.C.

“Many that tried to enroll or go online had some problems, and they found it difficult to get assistance, so getting a live person on the phone to help them,” Rudowitz said.

She co-authored a study about the implementation of Arkansas work requirements, and perspectives of enrollees.

Her findings are based on four focus groups.

“Some individuals have unstable work hours so they might be a hair stylist or a contractor. So they might be working more than 80 hours one month, and less than 80 hours another month. Those were problems. Transportation was another problem. Lack of jobs particularly was another problem,” Rudowitz said.

But Governor Asa Hutchinson has pushed back against these arguments.

“The work requirement is a good balance between our compassion to help those that need health care coverage, and the simple responsibility that if you are able-bodied you should be working, or being trained or volunteering,” Hutchinson said.

Over 6,000 Arkansas Works participants have found employment since June, and the Department of Human Services says outreach efforts about the program changes included over 230,000 phone calls, nearly 600,000 letters, over 300,000 emails, and thousands of text messages.

“We’re trying to control that growth of Medicaid spending. We’re not reducing services to people, we’re trying to manage it well, we’re trying to make sure we’re operating efficiently, fairly, meeting the needs of our citizens,” Hutchinson said.

But Goldsmith says more support for enrollees should be given.

“Maybe they should be more proactive in actually going to their customer base and talking to the people in the system and say, what problems are you having? And what can we do and fix it? And have a way of going in contact with people, and say how can we help you out? How can we make this better?”

Those who lost coverage in 2018, including those who just lost it in December, can now regain their insurance as long as they meet income-eligibility criteria.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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