LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - State lawmakers are back at work, ready to make changes to health care.
Governor Asa Hutchinson called them back for a special session that began Monday, mainly to address Arkansas Works, the state’s Medicaid expansion program.
Hutchinson has proposed two significant changes to the program: a work requirement, and an adjustment to the maximum income level for eligibility.
Currently, anyone who earns up to 138 percent of the poverty level, or $16,642.80 per year. Hutchinson wants the cut-off to be the poverty level, which is $12,060. If a person works full-time at minimum wage, they would make $17,680.
Neil Sealy, who helps low-income people get health insurance in his role as director of Arkansas Community Organizations, thinks the changes will hurt more than help. Someone earning 138 percent of the poverty level is likely working a part-time job, which often does not come with health benefits.
“People who are making less than minimum wage, we’re cutting off the private option, Arkansas Works,” Sealy said.
The other change Hutchinson asked for is a work requirement.
"I believe that the path out of poverty is through the halls of schools and the walls of the workplace,” Hutchinson told a joint session of the legislature Monday afternoon. “And the good news is, is that Arkansans want to work, and worker training and work assistance provides a pathway to that."
If Hutchinson’s plan is approved, anyone under 50 years of age, who is healthy and has no dependent children, will need to prove they have a job, are going to school, or in a treatment program for drug addiction in order to remain in Arkansas Works. The governor thinks that requirement will help move people from Arkansas Works into company-based health insurance.
“And when that happens, then we’ll be saving the federal taxpayer, which is us, money, as well,” he said.
“I think it will have no effect in doing that, whatsoever,” Sealy stated. “Most people I know want to work and they want more money and they realize the way to get more money is to work.”
According to the governor, nearly 3,000 people have gotten new jobs after being referred from Arkansas Works to the Department of Workforce Services. He told the legislature that is proof that the state is moving in the right direction.
“But it also shows that we need to implement a mandatory program,” he added. “Because 97 percent are not accessing those services.”
Approximately 60,000 people could be moved out of Arkansas Works if the changes are approved, both by the legislature and by the federal government. Many of them would qualify for subsidies to buy coverage through the federal marketplace.
“But we don’t know what’s going on in D.C., if the tax credits will be around much longer,” Sealy explained. “They’ll be around for this year, but we don’t know if they’ll be around for 2019.”
Legislators will also consider bills about medical marijuana and the state’s long-term reserve fund during the special session, which Hutchinson expects will last just 3 days.
“And while the Capitol is a little bit quiet while you’re gone,” he jokingly said to the legislators during his speech, “I don’t want to keep you here any longer than necessary.”
We will keep you updated on anything that may develop during this special session.