More than 184,500 Arkansans cut from Medicaid in six months during post-pandemic eligibility review

By: - October 9, 2023 7:13 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)

Arkansas has finished its review of the eligibility of Medicaid recipients whose coverage was extended during the COVID-19 pandemic, the state Department of Human Services announced Monday.

More than 184,500 Arkansans who retained coverage during the extension were disenrolled between April 1 and Sept. 30 because they did not provide necessary eligibility information, according to data DHS has released every month since May. These disenrolled clients either failed to return a Medicaid renewal form, failed to submit additional required information or were unable to be reached by DHS.

Roughly 420,000 Medicaid enrollees in Arkansas kept their 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 COVID-19 pandemic ended May 11, and states have been “unwinding” the Medicaid coverage extension at their own paces. Arkansas and four other states were the first to start disenrolling beneficiaries in April, according to a January 2023 survey from health policy researcher KFF.

Arkansas has drawn national attention this year for its number of procedural disenrollments and for its plan to do so in six months, as required by a 2021 state law. All other states told KFF that they planned to conduct their own unwinding projects over at least nine months.

In total, 53,553 beneficiaries were removed from Arkansas’ Medicaid program in September. Of those, 7,321 now earn too much money to receive Medicaid, and 3,646 asked to be removed, according to DHS data.

21,630 beneficiaries failed to return a Medicaid renewal form to DHS, and 12,900 of those were part of the pandemic-era coverage extension.

Additionally, 9,750 people did not submit additional information requested by DHS, but only 447 of them were part of the extension, according to the department’s data.

Further, 5,755 Medicaid recipients were dropped because they “did not meet the requirements for the program” in which they were previously enrolled, and less than a third of those were part of the extension, according to the data.

Gavin Lesnick, DHS’ communications chief, told the Advocate that 166 enrollees could not be reached in September.

Roughly 45,500 Medicaid enrollees had their coverage renewed last month.

Arkansas’ unwinding process has received criticism from Medicaid client advocates, who have said some Arkansans who were still eligible for Medicaid might have lost coverage due to bureaucratic hurdles, such as DHS not having people’s up-to-date income or contact information.

Advocates also expressed concerns that some clients might not have had the resources, whether from DHS or elsewhere, to get clarity about their eligibility before losing coverage.

Arkansas Community Organizations asked DHS in March to include a one-year grace period in the unwinding, to no avail.

The group later asked the state to pause the unwinding in August, as part of a petition to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to help Arkansas officials improve the administration of benefits.

About 35% of the state’s disenrolled Medicaid clients from April through July were children, according to data collected by KFF.

More than 1 million Arkansans, about a third of the state’s population, were receiving Medicaid benefits at the start of April. That number was 877,544 as of Sept. 1.

Monday’s report did not include the current total number of Medicaid beneficiaries.

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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.