- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas will resume its push to terminate coverage for thousands of Medicaid beneficiaries who haven’t verified their income, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday, despite complaints that many being kicked off the program still qualify.

Hutchinson said the Department of Human Services has eliminated a backlog of responses from Medicaid recipients trying to prove they still qualify for coverage. The Republican governor had ordered a two-week pause in the terminations so DHS officials could process thousands of responses they had received.

“I’m authorizing (DHS) to proceed today with reinstituting the verification process, specifically and in appropriate circumstances, the termination letters,” Hutchinson said at a news conference at the state Capitol.

Nearly 47,000 people have had their coverage terminated. DHS said more than 2,000 beneficiaries have had coverage reinstated during the two-week suspension.

The state Department of Human Services 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. They’re sent a notice terminating coverage if they don’t respond within the 10 days or they’re found ineligible.

Hutchinson said 300 DHS staffers have worked more than 2,200 hours of overtime since last week on processing the responses, and the department is filling 35 vacant positions to help.

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. Federal officials allow states to give recipients up to 30 days to respond, DHS has said. Those kicked off the program can be reinstated if they provide proof of eligibility within 90 days of being terminated.

“It seems reprehensible that we would choose a method that seems to be designed to kick eligible people off of coverage,” Democratic Rep. Camille Bennett of Lonoke said.

Hutchinson defended sticking with the 10-day window.

“If somebody is not going to respond to a request from DHS for information, they’re not going to respond in 10 days or 30 days,” Hutchinson said. “Ten days invigorates the process earlier.”

DHS said two of the three insurers providing coverage through the state’s “private option” Medicaid expansion - Ambetter Arkansas and Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield - have 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.

The termination letters are being sent as a legislative task force is looking at the future of the private option, which uses Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance for the poor. Lawmakers renewed the program another year while the task force looks at alternatives for covering the more than 200,000 people on the program.

A consultant hired by the task force projected in a report released to lawmakers this week that the program would have a $438 million net benefit to Arkansas between 2017 and 2021, the time period when the state would begin paying for part of the expansion’s cost.

Hutchinson said he planned to address the panel on Wednesday morning about his ideas on the program’s future.


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

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