Arkansas to re-assess Medicaid eligibility once pandemic order expires

Over 385,000 Arkansans could lose Medicaid coverage once the federal public health emergency expires, according to the state Department of Human Services.

While the public health emergency due to COVID-19 remains in effect, states are not allowed to disenroll people from Medicaid unless they move out of state, die, are incarcerated, or request an end to their coverage.

On Friday, DHS told reporters its plans for handling the Medicaid rolls once the public health emergency ends.

“One of the consequences of the continuant public health emergency is that when a client signs up for Medicaid, even if they later become ineligible, we must leave them enrolled in Medicaid during the public health emergency,” said DHS Secretary Mark White. “Once the public health emergency expires, then at that point we’ll have to remove all of those ineligible clients from the Medicaid rolls.”

The federal government is expected to give states 60 days’ notice before the public health emergency expires. Currently, it is set to expire on Jan. 11, which means the federal government will notify states by Nov. 11.

As of October, there were 385,650 Medicaid recipients in Arkansas who are considered “extended” because of the continuous enrollment condition of the public health emergency, according to Dawn Stehle, the state Medicaid director. That means 34% of the total Medicaid population in Arkansas is at risk of losing coverage.

“If that does indeed expire, individuals who are currently extended and who are going through that renewal process, if they are determined ineligible, then their coverage will start to end beginning on Jan. 31. So we’re really trying to get the word out to folks,” said Stehle.

She said what is important for people whose Medicaid benefits are currently considered “extended” is to make sure their information is up to date.

“We want to make sure people know it’s happening and can help be engaged in that process,” Stehle said.

Act 780 of 2021 requires DHS to complete all redeterminations of people who have been extended within 180 days of the emergency ending.

Medicaid enrollment has grown by 22.8% since the public health emergency was first declared in 2020. In total, 209,883 Arkansans have been added to the rolls, including over 55,000 children, according to DHS.

Just because someone is considered extended does not mean they will automatically lose coverage as they still may be eligible, Stehle said.

“As we go through the process, we will be redetermining eligibility, not just for those who have been extended, but for everyone within the Medicaid program over the next 12 or so months,” said Stehle.

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