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Arkansas Plan Would Cut Thousands from Medicaid Program

Experts say low-income working families could be hit the hardest if Arkansas lowers the income requirements for the state's Medicaid program. (Moore/GettyImages)
Experts say low-income working families could be hit the hardest if Arkansas lowers the income requirements for the state's Medicaid program. (Moore/GettyImages)
December 26, 2017

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Arkansas health officials are proposing significant cuts to the state's Medicaid program by rolling back the income requirements for eligibility. But some experts say that’s against the rules.

The state currently is awaiting an answer from the federal Health and Human Services Administration on its request to drop the qualifying income level down to the poverty line. That would mean as many as 60,000 current enrollees could lose coverage.

Jessica Schubel, senior policy analyst with the progressive think tank Center for Budget Policies and Priorities, said that's not the way Medicaid is supposed to work.

"What the state is proposing to do is not permissible under Medicaid waiver authority,” Schubel said. "They are effectively taking coverage away from people, and the whole purpose of Medicaid is to provide coverage to low-income people."

Under the Affordable Care Act, Arkansas expanded its program with a private option where most participants are covered by market-based insurance with Medicaid picking up the tab. Under that plan, the state's rolls grew to more than 330,000 by 2017.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the cuts are needed "to contain costs and eliminate waste."

The 2014 expansion allowed thousands of low-income Arkansans to gain coverage for the first time. State health officials maintain many of those who would be removed from Medicaid could qualify for coverage through the ACA marketplace. But in a recent report, Schubel said most people wouldn't be able to afford it and would be left without coverage.

"Before the Affordable Care Act, Arkansas only provided Medicaid coverage to very, very poor parents, and did not cover childless adults at all,” she explained. "So, eligibility was expanded to all adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty line."

Federal officials have not yet issued a ruling on the Arkansas request. Schubel said there will likely be a legal challenge if state officials are allowed to lower the eligibility rules.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AR