Thursday, April 13, 2017
After falling by more than 21,000 at the beginning of March, enrollment in Arkansas' expanded Medicaid program a month later had climbed back more than halfway to where it had been before the drop, according to information released Wednesday.
Enrollment fell from 332,231 to 310,951 after coverage for 21,280 enrollees was terminated on March 1 as a result of eligibility checks.
By March 31, however, sign-ups had risen to 322,472.
Of those whose coverage was terminated in early March, about 9,000 had failed to respond to notices requesting information needed to verify their eligibility, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Human Services has said.
Department spokesman Brandi Hinkle said Wednesday that some of those people may have had their coverage restored after supplying the information.
Coverage for others should have ended at some point in the past but didn't because of problems with the state's computerized enrollment and eligibility verification system, a department spokesman has said.
J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, credited department Director Cindy Gillespie for eliminating a backlog of Medicaid applications and overdue paperwork and for making sure the department keeps up with annual checks of recipients' eligibility.
The number of Arkansans enrolled "is still high, and we'd like to continue to see that number decrease," he said.
"What we want to do more than anything else is make sure that those who should be on the program are on the program, and those who should not be on the program are not," Davis said.
Authorized under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the expansion of the state's Medicaid program extended eligibility to adults with incomes of up to 138 percent of the poverty level: $16,643 for an individual, for example, or $33,948 for a family of four.
Those who were covered as of March 31 included 299,495 who, under the so-called private option, were enrolled in Medicaid-subsidized plans offered through the state's health insurance exchange.
The remaining 22,977 were being covered under the traditional, fee-for-service Medicaid program because they needed health services that private plans don't typically cover.
According to information released Wednesday, the average monthly cost of coverage for a private option enrollee fell by $1.53 in March, to $532.11.
That included a $4.42 drop in the average premium payment to $380.37.
The average cost-sharing reduction subsidy, paid to insurance companies to increase the amount of coverage offered by the plans, fell by $2.77, to $147.58.
The average cost of providing an enrollee with "wraparound" services, such as nonemergency transportation, that the private plans don't cover increased by 12 cents, to $4.15.
The federal government paid the full cost of the program from 2014 through last year. Starting this year, Arkansas is responsible for 5 percent of the cost. The state's share will increase every year until it reaches 10 percent in 2020.
Under the waiver authorizing the private option and other components of the state's Medicaid expansion, known as of Jan. 1 as Arkansas Works, the state will also owe additional money to the federal government if its average, per-enrollee cost of the private option from 2017-21 is too high.
So far this year, that doesn't appear to be an issue. From January through March, the state's average cost was about $37 below the monthly limit of $570.50 for 2017.
Under Arkansas Works, private option enrollees with incomes above the poverty level in January began paying premiums of $13 a month, which is deducted from what the Medicaid program pays.
The changes under Arkansas Works also include providing coverage through employer-sponsored plans instead of through the private option to workers at participating small businesses, and sending enrollees information about job-training programs.
In January and February, 1,780 enrollees used job-readiness or placement services offered by the Department of Workforce Services, and at least 1,209 of those enrollees started new jobs, Hinkle said.
Hutchinson, who has expressed concern as enrollment in expanded Medicaid has surged past the 250,000 Arkansans who state officials initially estimated would be eligible, plans to call a special session of the Legislature next month to seek approval for additional changes.
Those changes, which would also require approval from President Donald Trump's administration, include restricting eligibility to people with incomes below the poverty level instead of 138 percent of the poverty level, imposing a work requirement and expanding subsidies for employer-sponsored coverage.
A Section on 04/13/2017
Get 24/7 Access. Subscribe Now.
ACCESS. ANYTIME. ANYWHERE.
We hope you've enjoyed your preview of ArkansasOnline.com.
You've now read the maximum number of stories available without a subscription.
Subscribe now for complete and uninterrupted access to the best local, state and national news.