LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas officials said Wednesday they’re setting up a helpline for people on the state’s Medicaid expansion program to report they’ve complied with a work requirement following complaints from advocacy groups that the state’s reliance on a website to log hours worked is penalizing poor people without internet access.
The state Department of Human Services said beneficiaries can begin using the helpline on Dec. 19 and it announced the launch of an advertising campaign aimed at letting Medicaid beneficiaries know how to report their work activities. The department said last month more than 12,000 people have lost coverage since it started enforcing the work rule earlier this year.
Under Arkansas’ rule, beneficiaries subject to the requirement must work 80 hours a month. Beneficiaries lose coverage if they don’t meet the requirement three months in a calendar year, and they can’t re-enroll until January.
Medicaid beneficiaries who are subject to the work requirement will be able to report their hours worked by calling the phone line beginning Dec. 19. Beneficiaries previously had to report hours online or by calling “registered reporters” at insurance carriers or other groups that can log in and report for them.
“We are six months into this new Medicaid demonstration program, but wanted to take the time now to access what areas we need to shore up or improve,” DHS Director Cindy Gillespie said in a statement. “Though enrollees have had the ability to report by phone through carriers, friends, and registered reporters, we felt it was important to expand that option before we roll the next group into the work and community engagement requirement.”
Arkansas was the first state to enforce a work requirement after the Trump administration allowed states to tie Medicaid coverage to work. The requirement is being challenged in federal court, and a federal advisory panel last month urged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to temporarily stop Arkansas from enforcing the rule.
Advocacy groups have criticized the state’s online reporting system and have raised concerns that many were unable to report hours worked because of lack of internet access. Critics of the requirement said the helpline and expanded outreach don’t alleviate their concerns about the restriction.
“Fundamentally I think this is just a Band-Aid on what is a broken bone,” said Sam Brooke, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of three groups suing over Arkansas’ requirement.
The helpline, which is 1-855-372-1084, will operate from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. DHS said its helpline staff will also proactively reach out to beneficiaries who have logged some, but not enough, work hours.
Arkansas’ requirement applies only to the state’s Medicaid expansion, which uses federal and state funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents, and not the traditional Medicaid program. Once fully implemented, Arkansas’ requirement will affect able-bodied enrollees on the program, ages 19 to 49, with no children. The requirement is being enforced on participants ages 30 to 49 this year and will expand to include those 19 to 29 years old next year.