- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas is temporarily suspending its push to terminate coverage for thousands of people on Medicaid as state officials ease a backlog of responses from recipients trying to verify their eligibility, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday.

The Republican governor said the state would stop sending out termination notices over the next two weeks to thousands of people who haven’t responded to attempts to verify their incomes.

The state has already ended coverage for more than 35,000 people, most of who were on Arkansas’ compromise Medicaid expansion. Another 13,000 have been set notices that their coverage will end later this month.

“It’s important that we do this eligibility determination, and it’s important that we get it right,” Hutchinson said at a news conference at the state Capitol. “It is important we do it efficiently but also fairly.”

The state Department of Human Services has been verifying the eligibility of nearly 600,000 people on Medicaid. If officials find someone’s income has changed by 10 percent, they’re sent a notice to verify their 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 has faced a backlash from health advocates and others who have urged him to give recipients more than 10 days to verify their incomes. The state Democratic Party earlier Tuesday asked supporters to urge Hutchinson to extend the deadline.

Hutchinson defended the 10-day window and said he didn’t plan on changing it, even though the federal government allows states to give up to 30 days to respond to such notices.

“The challenge is not the 10-day notice requirement. The challenge is processing the information whenever the beneficiary sends in the income verification or the payroll stubs they have,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said he was lifting a hiring freeze so DHS can hire 35 additional employees and reassigning 20 employees in the agency to help handle the influx of responses it’s receiving. Hutchinson said he’s also authorizing overtime for the agency to process the income verification forms it’s receiving.

Hutchinson didn’t have an estimate of how much it will cost for the additional employees and overtime.

The termination letters have been going out as lawmakers are looking at the future of the state’s “private option” Medicaid expansion, which uses federal money to purchase private insurance for low-income residents.

Lawmakers reauthorized the program for another year in February, and a legislative task force is expected to issue recommendations later this year on the future of health coverage for the more than 200,000 people on the program.


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

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