LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) — Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson announced new numbers he says show the way the state expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act is saving the state lots of money.
The Republican has always characterized himself as a reluctant expander of the government entitlement. But with lawmakers gathering soon for a biannual fiscal session, he wanted to tout how well, he says, the program now known as Arkansas Works is working.
“Today there are 117,000 fewer people on Medicaid then there were a year ago,” the governor said at an afternoon news conference in his office. “Without any exception is good news for Arkansas taxpayers.”
Appearing with Department of Human Services director Cindy Gillespie, Gov. Hutchinson pointed to historic numbers of people with jobs as the main factor pulling them off Medicaid rolls. Gillespie spoke to efforts to improve the way her department operates. That includes replacing an IT system that they said better checks eligibility.
That and other fixes have sent the figures tumbling down.
“The reduced enrollment is driving reduced utilization,” Gillespie said. “It's driving reduced utilization both in-patient and outpatient.”
But after glitches and problems checking enrollment in the past, advocates for needy families are hesitant to embrace the numbers from the governor's office.
“What we have questions about, if is that what's really happening or are people losing coverage because we are constantly making policy changes,” said Marquita Little with Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families. “It's important with the rollout of any government program that we track those changes and really ensure that families legitimately having increased access that allow them to permanently move forward.”
The expansion takes federal money directed to Arkansas and steers it toward private insurance coverage sold through the ACA exchanges. Revisions of the program passed in 2017 reduce the number of people eligible and call for enrollees to prove they have jobs or are looking for jobs.
Those changes are awaiting waivers from the federal government because they depart from the way Congress Medicaid was originally designed. For now the work requirement is just a referral system. The governor says initial numbers from the program look good.
“With that work referral requirement as it is now, over 16,000 have accessed services through workforce services,” the governor said. “Over 4,000 of those are getting new job.”
Little says those figures are encouraging, but also a sign that they don't need to become for strict.
“Based on those numbers just referring people and informing them that support is available has helped,” she said. “The nudge is working without all the administrative costs that go along with a work requirement to actually make sure that people are looking for jobs or holding jobs.”
But both the Governor and Gillespie expect the Trump administration to sign off on the waivers soon.
“This is going to happen along Washington's timeframe and not necessarily my timeframe,” the governor said. “This is a win for the Trump administration as well as doing what's right for the Arkansas budget.”