LITTLE ROCK — A request by Arkansas officials to waive Medicaid rules is being met with skepticism by health-care advocates, who say it would hurt more people than it would help.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson has asked federal officials to lower the income threshold for eligibility in the state’s Arkansas Works program, as well as add a requirement that most recipients work.
Bruno Showers, a policy fellow at Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said he believes the proposed changes are designed to cut the number of people on Medicaid in the state.
“In other waiver requests, they’re pretty much admitting that the work requirements are going to help lower their Medicaid rolls. And I think that that’s the goal in Arkansas,” Showers said. “If the goal is to make people less reliant on government and more likely to have a job, I don’t think work requirements are a good way to satisfy that.”
In addition, state officials have said lowering the eligibility from 138 percent to 100 percent of the poverty level would cut about 60,000 people from the rolls.
Hutchinson said the work requirements would help the unemployed prepare to rejoin the workforce. But Showers said according to a recent report, while the state claims those people could find new coverage in the insurance marketplace, they would most likely become uninsured.
Dianne Skaggs, director of the Mental Health Council of Arkansas, said the state’s network of 14 community-based mental health centers would be forced to absorb the patients who lose coverage.
“We serve probably 70,000 folks a year. We’re the safety net for the public mental health system in Arkansas,” Skaggs said. “So, community mental health centers would do our best to serve the people that need to be served. But it’s really complicated.”
Showers said more than half of the state’s Medicaid beneficiaries would likely be exempt under the work requirements.
“Given that the state has a poor track record with some of its administrative outreach, and given that there’s really not an additional investment in workforce services to help these people meet the requirement, I assume it will be significant, but I just can’t give you an exact figure,” he said.
The Trump administration recently signaled its willingness to consider Medicaid changes, and granted the first waiver to Kentucky last week. Federal officials say Arkansas’s request is still under review.