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Email to soon be mandatory in health plan; compliance effort affects many in Arkansas Works

by Andy Davis | April 26, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Many Arkansas Works enrollees will soon have to have email accounts and access to computers if they want to keep their health coverage.

Using their accounts, they will have to log in to a state website, or portal, and report whether they met a requirement to spend 80 hours a month working or on other approved activities or that they qualified for exemptions.

That's a concern for some lawmakers who were briefed on the work requirement Wednesday at a meeting of the Legislative Task Force on Workforce Education Excellence.

"You mentioned portal several times," Sen. Eddie Cheatham, D-Crossett and a member of the task force, told state Department of Human Services officials. "Some of my folks don't know what a portal is."

He added that Internet access is scarce in some areas.

In Eudora, for example, the public library has "four or five computers, and every time I've been in that facility there's a waiting line," Cheatham said.

Rep. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna, said he's especially worried about some of the people he spoke with while campaigning door-to-door this week.

"Listen to me, you guys, there's no way that these people I'm talking about are going to have an email address," he said. "They're not going to get there."

Kelley Linck, the Human Services Department's chief of legislative and governmental affairs, said help will be available.

For instance, enrollees will be able to use computers at each of the department's 83 offices around the state.

Staff members at those offices "will walk [enrollees] through and help them and quite honestly probably do a lot of the reporting for them through conversation," Linck said.

Department Director Cindy Gillespie said the agency has been increasing the number of computers available to enrollees in those offices.

In the next few days, she said, the department will send letters to enrollees with information on other sites with public Internet access.

"In those places, we're trying to make sure we have capacity, as well as folks who can help [enrollees] know what to do and work with them as they come in," Gillespie said.

The Legislature formed the task force, made up of legislators and industry representatives, last year to recommend ways to improve the state's job training programs.

The expanded Medicaid program's work requirement was approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last month. It will apply to about 168,000 of the 281,000 people covered by Arkansas Works, as the program is known.

The expansion extended Medicaid eligibility in 2014 to adults with incomes of up to 138 percent of the poverty level. This year, for instance, that annual income cutoff is $16,753 for an individual or $34,638 for a family of four.

The work requirement will apply only to enrollees covered by private, Medicaid-subsidized plans.

Those covered by the traditional, fee-for-service Medicaid program because they are considered "medically frail," with health needs that private plans typically don't cover, are exempt.

Enrollees age 50 or over or with incomes above the poverty level are also exempt.

The requirement will apply starting June 1 to enrollees age 30-49 and next year to younger enrollees.

Of the 99,000 enrollees in the older age group, about 60,000 won't have to take action because state records indicate they already are in compliance or are exempt, Human Services Department officials have said.

For instance, automatic exemptions will be given to enrollees making at least $736 a month -- the average monthly income of someone making the state's minimum wage of $8.50 an hour and working 20 hours a week.

Those not automatically exempt will have to use the website to report on their compliance. If they fail to meet the requirement for three months during a year, they will lose their coverage for the rest of that year.

Human Services Department spokesman Marci Manley said allowing enrollees to report their compliance on paper forms, rather than through the website, would require more work by Human Services Department caseworkers and "wasn't feasible" for a program the size of Arkansas Works.

Requiring enrollees to each have an email address will give the department another way to contact them and help prepare enrollees for "the workforce in the 21st century," she said.

Daryl Bassett, director of the Department of Workforce Services, said he's expecting about half the enrollees who are subject to the work requirement to go to his department for help.

"If we get more, then we are going to have to make some adjustments with regard to our manpower," such as by using "intermittent staff," he said.

He said his department can help enrollees find jobs, help with resumes or connect them with organizations that provide training.

"We're looking at this not as a requirement, but as an opportunity," he said.

Metro on 04/26/2018

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