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Federal panel warns of people losing health coverage in Arkansas from work requirement

Federal panel warns of people losing health coverage in Arkansas from work requirement

A nonpartisan government commission on Medicaid is calling on the Trump administration to pause the practice of revoking Medicaid coverage for people in Arkansas who fail to meet the state’s new work requirements.

The letter from the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) states that the commission is “highly concerned” that 8,462 people have lost their health coverage through Medicaid this year for failing to meet the state’s new work requirement.  

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The commission therefore calls for a “pause” in kicking people off Medicaid coverage, saying that more effort is needed to help make people aware of the new rules and help them comply.

In the letter sent Thursday to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, Penny Thompson, the chair of the commission, also called on the Trump administration to stop approving work requirements in other states until more time is spent putting in place effective ways to evaluate the new rules to see what effect they are having.

The Trump administration has made a priority of approving work requirements in Medicaid for the first time, a major conservative change in direction for the decades-old program.

The letter from MACPAC amounts to a warning signal about possible damaging effects of these moves from a nonpartisan government body tasked with analyzing Medicaid and making recommendations.

“We have received the letter, will carefully review and respond," said HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley. "HHS is committed to working with states to strengthen their Medicaid programs, including, as appropriate, through community engagement initiatives.”

Arkansas is the first state to revoke coverage from people who failed to meet the requirements, but Kentucky, Wisconsin, Indiana and New Hampshire have also been approved to implement the requirements. Several other states have applied.

A federal judge in June blocked Kentucky’s requirements from going into effect, saying the Trump administration did not adequately consider the people who could lose coverage from the move.

The Trump administration has vowed to keep pushing forward, though, saying that work requirements are needed to make sure people are working and lifting themselves out of poverty.

Democrats warn that the new rules will instead simply cut people off from needed health coverage, including some people who are in fact working but do not know about or understand the requirements to report their work to the government.

This story was updated at 5:31 p.m.