One aspect of the Medicaid expansion/Arkansas Works debate that gets little attention is the efforts to help eligible Arkansans keep their health insurance.
Arkansas Works recipients from 30 to 49 years old have an obligation to work 80 hours a month and report it to Medicaid. Starting Feb. 1, adults ages 19-29 will be added in this requirement. Of the 234,385 people covered by Arkansas Works, about 60,680 are required to report. Of those, just 4,776 failed to do so as of Dec. 31. The work and community involvement rules allow working, looking for work, job training, attending school, volunteering or a combination.
This is an Opinion
In exchange for 80 hours of activity, they get private health insurance subsidized by Arkansas’ Medicaid program. Most also pay a fraction of premiums, as well as co-payments for doctor visits, drugs and other services.
About 60 percent of those in the age range are exempt from reporting requirements if they meet any of several conditions set by the legislature. Those include being ill, being pregnant, caring for another person, caring for a child or having a short-term reason for not working. Some exemptions must also be reported monthly.
Public assistance work requirements are not unique. They apply to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (formerly Aid to Families with Dependent Children) and the Special Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps).
The Division of Medical Services, overseeing the state’s Medicaid program, uses multiple strategies to reach this population. It has contracted with the nonprofit health-improvement organization that I lead, AFMC, to hire and train representatives to reach out to Arkansas Works clients. AFMC provides:
• An inbound call center to answer Medicaid questions or give step-by-step instructions on how to report work or community-engagement hours. Callers can choose a primary care doctor, get a new Medicaid card, or report a change of address. The call center is open seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., except state holidays.
• An outbound call center to locate those who have failed to report and for whom DMS does not have a working phone number or current address. Multiple letters, emails and text messages have been sent, and more than 190,000 phone calls were placed to locate eligible Arkansans. Call center representatives help Arkansans find resources and retain or regain health insurance coverage.
• Reporting assistance allowing callers to report work and engagement hours to AFMC’s call center. Agents enter the data into the computer for Arkansas Works recipients. This is helpful to those with low computer literacy or people lacking access to a computer.
Complying with Arkansas Works is possible without touching a computer. There are 335 local offices where reporting can be done, including:
• Arkansas Department of Human Services offices in every county (see map and address information.)
• Arkansas Department of Workforce Services offices that can be located from this online map. (Free job-search services are available online or at any ADWS office.)
• Public computers at public libraries, colleges and universities. There is no cost for any of these access methods and trained people are available. Other ways to report include:
• The Access Arkansas website between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.
• Private insurance carriers who can complete the reporting. Call toll-free: Arkansas Blue Cross, (800) 800-4298; Ambetter of Arkansas, (877) 617-0390; or QualChoice, (800) 235-7111.
• Arkansas Works Helpline at (501) 301-4147 between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. seven days a week, except state holidays.
• Any internet connection via smartphone, tablet or computer.
• Registered reporters authorized to report work data.
Beneficiaries who lost their health coverage in 2018 can reapply in January, no questions asked. If they regain eligibility, they can start reporting or find out if they have an exemption.
Many of those who have lost Arkansas Works insurance cannot be found, have moved or have changed phone numbers without notifying DHS. While individuals have the responsibility to meet the requirements for getting and retaining health insurance, help is available in many forms, at many places and from trained representatives.
Ray Hanley is president and CEO of AFMC in Little Rock. He previously spent 16 years as director of Medicaid in Arkansas. Email him at RHanley@AFMC.org.