LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas removed more than 12,000 people from its expanded Medicaid program over the past three months for not complying with a new work requirement, the state said Thursday. Another 6,000 are at risk of losing coverage by December if they don't find work.
The state Department of Human Services said more than 3,800 people lost their Medicaid coverage for not complying last month with the rule, which requires them to 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. Nearly 8,500 people had lost coverage over the previous two months.
The agency said another 6,000 people will lose coverage if they don't meet the work requirement by the end of this month. Arkansas was the first state to enforce the 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 week urged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to temporarily stop Arkansas from enforcing the rule.
"At the end of the day this is really just becoming a very punitive policy where people are getting cut off en masse and it's not achieving its purported objective of helping people work," said Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.
Kentucky was the first state to win approval for a work requirement, but a federal judge blocked the state from enforcing it. A similar challenge over Arkansas' requirement, which the state began enforcing in June, is pending before the same judge.
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. More than 250,000 people are on Arkansas' Medicaid expansion, and about 69,000 of them were subject to the work requirement last month.
Once fully implemented, Arkansas' requirement will affect able-bodied enrollees on the program, aged 19 to 49 years old, 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.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has promoted the requirement as a way to move people into the workforce, and said approximately 2,800 beneficiaries have moved into work since it took effect.
"The primary goal of this initiative is to connect people with work and to help them move people up the economic ladder," Hutchinson said in a statement. "This is a good sign as we're still in the early stages of its implementation."
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