40K Arkansans lose Medicaid coverage after their eligibility is left unknown

Monday’s report is the first in the six-month unwinding following the end of the federal public health emergency

By: - May 8, 2023 6:05 pm
Mary Franklin, director of the Arkansas Department of Human Services' Division of County Operations, speaks during media briefing on Medicaid eligibility Friday at DHS's headquarters in downtown Little Rock. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate/11/04/2022)

Mary Franklin, director of the Arkansas Department of Human Services’ Division of County Operations, speaks during media briefing on Medicaid eligibility last year at DHS’ headquarters in downtown Little Rock. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

More than 40,000 Arkansans were removed from the state’s Medicaid program at the end of April because they did not provide required information to determine their eligibility, the state Department of Human Services announced Monday.

The department has been reviewing the eligibility of about 420,000 Medicaid enrollees who had their coverage extended over the last three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The nationwide public health emergency (PHE) enacted at the start of the pandemic in 2020 will end Thursday.

As part of the federal government’s pandemic relief measures, Medicaid recipients were allowed to maintain coverage under the public health insurance program even if they no longer qualified for the benefit due to income or other eligibility limits.

Of the newly disenrolled beneficiaries, 1,485 of the 44,667 now earn too much money to receive Medicaid, and 2,685 asked to be removed, DHS’ report states.


The remaining 40,497 disenrolled clients either failed to return a Medicaid renewal form, failed to submit additional required information or were unable to be reached by the department, according to DHS data.

Clients can renew their Medicaid enrollment online or by mail to determine whether they are still eligible for coverage.

Advocates have worried that some Arkansans who are still eligible for Medicaid could lose their coverage in an administrative maze created by the PHE unwinding.

For instance, the letters that some Medicaid clients have received contain too much jargon, Neil Sealy, an organizer with Arkansas Community Organizations, said last month.

A 2021 Arkansas law gives DHS six months to complete its eligibility review. Many other states have one-year grace periods that started April 1, allowing Medicaid enrollees to confirm during that time whether they are still eligible for coverage.

Arkansas Medicaid recipients asked DHS in March for a one-year grace period to no avail. The advocacy group Arkansas Community Organizations has repeatedly petitioned the department for broader health care coverage from Medicaid, a less cumbersome application process and better customer service.

Several Medicaid recipients were briefly disenrolled from the program in April due to an error at DHS, but the problem was corrected and the clients were re-enrolled, two DHS spokespeople said.

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The department announced in November that all Medicaid recipients should ensure their contact information is up to date in the state’s system, either online, over the phone or at the DHS office in each county. Clients can still update their contact information by calling the Update Arkansas hotline at 1-844-872-2660 or visiting DHS’ benefits site.

The state had 145,475 more Medicaid enrollees on May 1 of this year than it did on March 31, 2020, according to Monday’s report. More than 1 million Arkansans receive benefits through the program.

Roughly 28,130 Medicaid clients were disenrolled in April as part of normal DHS operations unrelated to the extension of coverage during the pandemic, according to the report. Additionally, 61,236 people had their coverage renewed.

The department will continue to report at the beginning of every month how many Medicaid clients have been removed from coverage as a result of the end of the PHE unwinding.

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Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri.