- Associated Press - Friday, August 28, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas officials on Friday suspended a push to terminate coverage for thousands of people on Medicaid for the second time this month after the federal government told the state to give beneficiaries more time to prove they’re eligible.

The Department of Human Services said the federal government has told the state to give beneficiaries 30 days to prove they qualify for coverage, rather than the 10 days the state had been using. DHS spokeswoman Amy Webb said the state is revising its notices to reflect the new deadline, and didn’t know when they would resume.

“Basically the entire process has stopped while we make these changes,” Webb said.

This marks the second time the state has halted its push to cancel coverage for those on the program. Earlier this month, Gov. Asa Hutchinson ordered a two-week halt in cancellation notices so DHS could ease a backlog of responses from those on the program. Hutchinson ordered the cancellations to resume on Aug. 18.

“The state of Arkansas will follow the most recent federal regulatory directive concerning the redetermination of enrollees on Medicaid,” the Republican governor said in a prepared statement. “It is my hope that no more changes in guidance will come from Washington in the near future.”

More than 55,000 people, most of whom are on the state’s compromise Medicaid expansion, have had their coverage canceled. The state has been checking the eligibility of nearly 600,000 people on Medicaid, and the department has sent notices to thousands telling them to verify eligibility using paycheck stubs or other documents within 10 days. Before Friday’s announcement, they were sent a notice terminating coverage if they didn’t respond within the 10 days or were found ineligible.

Most kicked off the program lost coverage because they didn’t respond in time.

Webb said Medicaid beneficiaries who have been sent notices asking to verify their eligibility will now be given 30 days to respond. The changes aren’t retroactive for those who have already lost coverage, she said, but noted they still have a 90-day window to appeal the cancellations.

The terminations have faced heavy criticism from Democrats and health advocates, who have urged the governor to give recipients more time to respond before losing coverage. Hutchinson had repeatedly resisted calls to expand the timeline.

House Minority Leader Rep. Eddie Armstrong said the decision shows Democrats were right in urging for expanding the timeline to 30 days. Armstrong said the state should look at making the decision apply to those who have already lost coverage.

“I think this is a huge victory for the citizens and constituents of our state,” the Democrat from North Little Rock said. “They were owed that time from the outset.”

Two insurers providing coverage through the compromise Medicaid expansion earlier this month agreed to cover prescriptions for its beneficiaries who have been dropped for 30 days. If the beneficiary is found to be eligible, the insurers will be paid retroactively by the state for the coverage.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo .

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