What would you say if you heard that, of the 1.1+ million Arkansans on Medicaid today, more than a third are likely ineligible for the program?
Unfortunately, that’s precisely what the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) is estimating.
Medicaid enrollment has shot up by roughly 25 percent during the pandemic due to a provision in one of the federal COVID-19 relief bills which restricts states from removing any enrollees—even those found to be ineligible—in the program, for as long as the public health emergency has been in effect.
As a result, states like Arkansas have been powerless to remove untold numbers of millionaires, fraudsters, or other ineligible individuals who were at one point able to enter the Medicaid program. States have literally been handcuffed from controlling their own Medicaid populations.
Beginning April 1, a new federal law allows states to begin “unwinding” these ineligible enrollees from the program—and it’s about time.
Unfortunately, the fact that only ineligible enrollees will be removed from the program appears to be lost on some people — and some in the Arkansas media who are giving them air time:
Overall, Arkansas DHS predicts that as many as 422,122 enrollees—including nearly 130,000 able-bodied adults on the state’s Obamacare expansion program—will need to be renewed.
Here’s the good news: the state of Arkansas has already started conducting redeterminations, and has indicated they should be able to complete this “unwinding” within roughly six months.
That stands in stark contrast to other states who haven’t even started and who plan to take a year (or more). The longer the unwinding, the more money state taxpayers will have to fork over to keep ineligible enrollees on Medicaid.
By DHS indicating their plan to move quickly, it is clear that Gov. Sarah Sanders and her administration are treating this issue as a key priority.
But Arkansas lawmakers should make sure this never, ever happens again: The legislature can and should pass a law that requires affirmative legislative approval of any restrictions on the management of the state’s Medicaid program proposed by the federal government.
This would protect the state from future federal overreach and preserve the integrity of Arkansas’s Medicaid program — or at least provide an additional accountability measure before basic eligibility rules are discarded.
Thankfully, the Sanders administration is acting swiftly to restore integrity in the Medicaid program. But state lawmakers have a role to play in making sure Arkansas avoids future crises like these in the future — when we may not have such a strong top executive.