Arkansas Medicaid recipients gather on the Capitol steps on Thursday, June 8, 2023, to describe their concerns with the state’s administration of Medicaid and the ongoing “unwinding” of extended coverage after the COVID-19 public health emergency ended in May. (Tess Vrbin/Arkansas Advocate)
More than 37,000 Arkansans were removed from the state’s Medicaid program in June because they did not provide required information to determine their eligibility, the state Department of Human Services announced Monday.
DHS has now disenrolled more than 112,000 Arkansans in three months whose continued Medicaid eligibility was left unknown after they had their coverage extended since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The disenrolled clients — 40,497 in April, 34,724 in May and 37,510 in June — 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 the DHS report.
Additionally, 2,525 Medicaid recipients were dropped because they “did not meet the requirements for the program” in which they were previously enrolled, according to the report. Past reports have not included this statistic.
More than 1 million Arkansans, about a third of the state’s population, receive Medicaid benefits, and 50,366 Arkansans had their Medicaid coverage renewed in June, according to DHS data.
Of the 77,468 newly disenrolled beneficiaries, 3,573 now earn too much money to receive Medicaid, and 2,033 asked to be removed, according to the data from DHS.
DHS officials have also noted that some beneficiaries may not return the requisite paperwork when they know they are no longer entitled to benefits.
Another 30,042 Arkansas Medicaid clients that were not part of the pandemic-related coverage extension were disenrolled in June, according to DHS data.
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The federal government’s pandemic relief measures allowed roughly 420,000 Medicaid enrollees in Arkansas to maintain coverage under the public health insurance program for more than three years, even if they no longer qualified for the benefit due to income or other eligibility limits.
The nationwide Public Health Emergency (PHE) enacted at the start of the pandemic ended May 11, and states have been “unwinding” the coverage extension since April. 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, but a 2021 Arkansas law gives the Human Services Department six months to complete its eligibility review.
By early June, more than half a million Medicaid recipients in 11 states had lost coverage during the unwinding, often due to incomplete paperwork, according to health policy researcher KFF.
Of the five states that provided KFF with data on disenrollments for procedural reasons, Indiana and Arkansas had the largest numbers of these clients. Indiana saw roughly 91,000 procedural disenrollments in May and June; Arkansas had roughly 75,000 in that time.
The advocacy group Arkansas Community Organizations has repeatedly expressed concern that some Arkansans who are still eligible for Medicaid could lose their coverage or have already lost it due to bureaucratic hurdles at DHS. Organizers at a June rally outside the state Capitol said DHS does not always receive the requested information that recipients send by mail and that some clients have struggled to get their income recorded accurately in DHS’s system.
Renewal for eligible clients is “an automated process that involves passively checking data against existing sources rather than actively requiring any new information be submitted,” which means these clients do not have to get in touch with DHS, according to Monday’s report on the June disenrollments.
DHS in November, before the unwinding began, suggested that all Medicaid recipients should ensure their contact information was 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’s benefits site.
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