Arkansas Works enrollees who lack access to computers or have difficulty reading will be able to enlist someone else, such as a relative or insurance agent, to help them comply with a work requirement that takes effect next month, the state Department of Human Services announced Thursday.
The helpers, known as registered reporters, must each complete a short online course on using a state website to report whether the enrollee met a requirement to spend at least 80 hours a month working or on other approved activities or qualified for an exemption.
Both the enrollee and helper must sign forms authorizing the helper to use the website on the enrollee's behalf. The enrollee can revoke the authorization at any time.
The option was created in response to concerns that some Arkansas Works enrollees may have trouble using the website to report their compliance.
"We just want to help make sure that people who want to comply have a way to do that," said Mary Franklin, director of the Human Services Department's Division of County Operations.
She said department officials decided on creating the option within "the past couple weeks."
To create an account on the state website, enrollees will still have to have an email address. But registered reporters can create email accounts for enrollees who don't have them, Franklin said.
Franklin explained the new option, along with other details of the work requirement, at a meeting with insurance agents in Little Rock organized by the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors' Arkansas chapter and the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace, which helps people enroll in coverage offered through healthcare.gov.
"It's important to us that people have a clear understanding of what is expected of them once the work requirement is live and [that] they have the support they need," department Director Cindy Gillespie said in a news release. "We especially wanted to take steps to address potential barriers to reporting work activities, such as a lack of reading skills and a lack of home access to the Internet."
Matthew Vannatta, the lead executive for individual insurance plans at Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, said each of the company's customer service and retail sales employees will be trained as registered reporters for customers enrolled in Arkansas Works plans.
Customer service representatives will be able to obtain authorization over a recorded phone call to report on a customer's behalf, he said.
"We know what a challenge it is, especially for folks in rural communities, so we're gong to be there to help in every way that we can," he said.
St. Louis-based Centene has also agreed to train employees to act as registered reporters, according to the Human Services Department. Little Rock-based QualChoice Health Insurance, which also offers Arkansas Works plans, "hasn't indicated that they plan to participate" in providing the assistance, department spokesman Marci Manley said.
Linda Morrison, a Hot Springs insurance agent, said she's glad the help will be available, even though she won't be able to provide it herself.
"There are only 24 hours in a day, and we need 48 at least," said Morrison, who added that she has "several hundred" customers who are Arkansas Works participants. "It becomes a burden to keep pushing more stuff onto the agents, because we don't have time to do this."
Arkansas Works covers adults who became eligible under the expansion of the state's Medicaid program in 2014 that extended coverage 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.
About 281,000 people were enrolled in Arkansas Works as of April 1. Most receive the coverage through private plans offered on the state's health care exchange, with the Medicaid program paying the premium.
Approved by the federal government in March, the work requirement will apply this year to enrollees, ages 30-49, in private plans and next year to younger enrollees.
Exempt will be those over age 50 with incomes above the poverty level or who are covered under the traditional Medicaid program because they are considered "medically frail," with health needs that private plans don't typically cover.
Enrollees can also qualify for exemptions for several other reasons, such as if they are pregnant or have dependent children in the home. In some cases, the exemptions will be granted automatically based on information in state records. In other cases, the enrollees will have to use the state website to report the exemption.
James Arel, a Little Rock insurance agent with about 500 customers covered by Arkansas Works, said he'll help as many customers as he can to keep up with the requirement.
But he said he likely won't be able to help everyone who needs it. He said he recently spoke to a customer who has never owned a computer and wouldn't be able to use one if he had it.
"People are not as smart on computers as people think," Arel said.
Metro on 05/04/2018