More than 4,300 people whose Arkansas Works health coverage was terminated Sept. 1 for failing to comply with the work requirement remained without coverage as of Sunday, the state Department of Human Services reported Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the department reported that an additional 5,076 had been out of compliance for two months and will lose coverage at the end of this month unless they report their work hours or an exemption for September.
During a news conference, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said that the number who have lost coverage “is higher than we would prefer.” But he said that some of them may have found other coverage or moved out of the state, while others “simply don’t want to be a part of the workforce.”
Arkansas was the first state to implement a Medicaid work requirement after the Trump administration said it would allow states to require participants to work to keep coverage. Kentucky was the first state to win approval for a work requirement, but a federal judge blocked the state from enforcing it. A similar challenge over Arkansas' requirement is pending before the same judge.
With the state paying an average of about $570 a month in premiums and other payments to insurance companies for each enrollee, the reduction in enrollment is saving the state and federal government tens of millions of dollars a month, he noted.
“I think it would be the common sense judgment of the people of Arkansas that we should not continue to pay” that cost, Hutchinson said.
To meet the requirement, enrollees must spend 80 hours a month on work or other approved activities unless they qualify for an exemption. Those who fail to comply for three months during a year are moved off the program and barred from reenrolling for the rest of the year.
Democrats and low-income advocates have said the state's requirement that the hours worked be reported through a website penalizes people without access to the Internet.
"It's either stunningly bad, poorly designed, or it's meant to kick people off," Jared Henderson, a Democrat challenging Hutchinson in the November election, said earlier Wednesday.
Hutchinson and state officials defended the online approach, saying that beneficiaries can also call one of 200 "registered reporters" at insurance carriers or other groups that can log in and report for them. The Department of Human Services said beneficiaries can also use computers at its county offices around the state.
"We always want to provide other avenues, and we've done that in this case," Hutchinson said.
Read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.