More than 26,500 Arkansans lost Medicaid coverage for procedural reasons in August

By: - September 8, 2023 6:32 pm
Protesters march from Woodlane Street to the Arkansas Capitol on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, to deliver a letter to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' office detailing the difficulties they have had with the state's Medicaid program. (Tess Vrbin/Arkansas Advocate)

Protesters march from Woodlane Street to the Arkansas Capitol on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, to deliver a letter to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ office detailing the difficulties they have had with the state’s Medicaid program. (Tess Vrbin/Arkansas Advocate)

More than 26,500 Arkansans who had their Medicaid coverage extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic were dropped from the program in August because they did not provide necessary eligibility information, according to Arkansas Department of Human Services data released Friday.

DHS has one month left in its six-month project to redetermine the eligibility of Medicaid recipients whose coverage was extended from March 2020 to May of this year. So far DHS has disenrolled roughly 171,000 Arkansans who failed to return a Medicaid renewal form, failed to submit additional required information or were unable to be reached by the department.

August’s 26,546 disenrollments for these reasons were the lowest monthly total so far in the “unwinding,” which every state has been doing since April. The nationwide Public Health Emergency (PHE) enacted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic ended May 11.

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In total, 72,519 beneficiaries were removed from the state Medicaid program in August. Of those, 7,466 now earn too much money to receive Medicaid, and 6,234 asked to be removed, according to DHS data.

Additionally, 5,003 Medicaid recipients were dropped because they “did not meet the requirements for the program” in which they were previously enrolled, and fewer than half of those had been part of the COVID-19 coverage extension, according to the data.

Gavin Lesnick, DHS’ communications chief, told the Advocate that 716 enrollees could not be reached in August.

50,622 Medicaid enrollees had their coverage renewed last month.

More than 1 million Arkansans, about a third of the state’s population, were receiving Medicaid benefits at the start of April. That number is 877,544 as of Sept. 1, a drop of 38,382 since Aug. 1 and 93,820 since July 1.

About 36% of the state’s disenrolled Medicaid clients from April through June were children, according to data collected by health policy researcher KFF, which has been tracking the Medicaid unwinding process nationwide.

Eligibility concerns

DHS officials have said some Medicaid beneficiaries may not return the requisite paperwork when they know they are no longer entitled to benefits.

David Donohue, president of the Ohio-based managed-care company CareSource, said he and his employees encourage skeptical Medicaid clients to return the paperwork in case they are mistaken and are still eligible for coverage.

CareSource is one of four managed-care companies that participate in the Provider-led Arkansas Shared Savings Entity (PASSE) program under the state’s Medicaid umbrella. The PASSE program “serves Medicaid clients with complex behavioral health, developmental, or intellectual disabilities,” according to the DHS website.

Donohue said DHS has sent CareSource “regular updates” on its members that were “at risk” of disenrollment during the unwinding, so CareSource’s care coordinators have been able to inform members of their options.

“When we work through that process with them and identify that they’re no longer eligible [for PASSE membership], we work with them to find alternatives,” such as federal Affordable Care Act programs or other Arkansas Medicaid programs, Donohue said.


He estimated that CareSource’s “proactive” efforts have prevented about 15% of its more than 3,000 members from losing Medicaid coverage during the unwinding.

Some members have been disenrolled, and CareSource employees have worked with DHS to regain people’s coverage or find them another program, Donohue said.

Medicaid client advocates, however, have expressed concern that some clients might not have the resources, whether from DHS or elsewhere, to get clarity about their eligibility before losing coverage.

Advocates have also said some Arkansans who are still eligible for Medicaid could lose their coverage or have already lost it due to bureaucratic hurdles, such as DHS not having people’s up-to-date income or contact information.

Arkansas Community Organizations has held several protests this year airing Medicaid recipients’ complaints, not just about the unwinding but also about the need for broader health care coverage from the program, a less cumbersome application process and better customer service.

In August, organizers wrote a letter to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, asking its division that administers Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to work with Arkansas officials on improving the state’s administration of benefits.

Arkansas Medicaid recipients petition DHS for better care, accessibility

Requested changes include using plain language in written notices that DHS sends to Medicaid clients and staffing DHS’ county offices with employees who fully understand the rules and criteria of Medicaid’s many programs.

The letter also requested that Arkansas pause the ongoing Medicaid unwinding. Most states have a full year to conduct the project, but Arkansas has six months, as required by a 2021 state law.

Later in August, the Medicaid and CHIP division director asked some states to restore coverage to Medicaid clients who were disenrolled for procedural reasons, but the request did not apply to Arkansas.

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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.