LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) — Governor Asa Hutchinson secured help in his efforts to tighten up the state's Medicaid expansion program on Monday, March 5. Arkansas now has permission to force certain people enrolled in "Arkansas Works" to prove they are actually working.
Seema Verna, administrator for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services made the trip to Little Rock to personally hand over the waiver needed to add the work requirements. They will impose new rules for some relatively healthy people if they want to keep their subsidized health insurance.
“We wanted to get this work requirement in place so that we go about our business in Arkansas,” Hutchinson said.
He has sought the conservative tools to pare back the costs of the program that developed out of the Affordable Care Act.
“I expect that we will be the first state in the nation to actually implement the work requirement,” Hutchinson said.
Arkansas is expected to beat Kentucky and Indiana to actually get the program up-and-running. Those states also received waivers but need more time to set up various administrative pieces. Kentucky is also facing a lawsuit over the measures.
The Trump administration has been eager to help Republican governors make changes to Medicaid.
"One of the things that I found was the CMS was not always a willing partner,” Verma said. “It's my aim and the aim of this administration with President Trump and [Health and Human Services] Secretary [Alex] Azar to really change how CMS is working with states.”
The new rules require about 39,000 enrollees who are between the ages of 30 and 49 to prove they are working, training, going to school or volunteering at least 80 hours a month. The requirements don't sit well with some recipients who worry that the governor wants to take away their health care.
“I don't think that you should make people work for their benefits,” Rebeka Scott said.
She is a single mother of three who volunteers at the Arkansas Community Organizations. She would be exempt because of her children and age but still has concerns.
“Some people are just unemployed and they just need that insurance" Scott said. "It helps in more ways than you can imagine sometimes.”
The governor defended the plan against that charge.
“Anytime you have somebody who is able-bodied and who does not have dependent children at home," Hutchinson said. "Then for them to be encouraged to be in a worker training program or an education program or working, this is all positive.”
The governor didn't get everything he wanted. CMS still won't approve plans to reduce the number of people eligible by setting the threshold at the poverty level. It’s currently 138 percent of poverty.