Arkansas Playing Gotcha with the Poor to Cut Them Off of Medicaid

New Orleans  In a sordid and shameful episode a few weeks ago Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson pridefully announced that the state had managed to bar 4300 people from health care support through Medicaid because of its new work requirement policies.  Seema Verma the head of the federal Center for Medical Services (CMS) who had approved this draconian attack on the poor played clueless cheerleader.

As more information come forward the real evil that underlies this shame emerges.  Let’s look at the facts.

Arkansas began the experiment by exempting two-thirds of the eligible recipients from having to report work hours, knowing this was going to be a problem.  30,000 people were then required to report.  16,000 didn’t report any qualifying activities to the state, either work, training or volunteer time.  In fact, according to the New York Times, “only 1200 about 2% of those eligible for the requirement, told the state they had done enough of the required activities in August, according to state figures.”  That’s pickle-poor!  It screams to a state failure not a people failure, and it foretells thousands more that will be denied coverage.

State officials tried to cover their rear ends, claiming they had done everything possible:  mailings, calls, and even putting out fliers some places where Medicaid patients congregate.  Even more ridiculously they touted the fact that they send emails and posted on social media sites.  Who are they trying to fool?  Arkansas ranks 48th among all of the states in the US in terms of connectivity and 30% of the population is underserved.  230,000 people in Arkansas don’t have any wired internet providers available where they live.  Who wants to guess whether embedded in these sorry statistics lie most of these lower income Medicaid recipients?

Shockingly, the Times then quoted Amy Webb, the chief communications and engagement officer for the Arkansas Department of Human Services saying, “If there’s something we are not doing to reach people, if someone will tell us how to do that, we will do it.”  Yeah, really?  She doesn’t mention that the state legislature forbade any use of media to increase enrollment under the Affordable Care Act.  Nowhere do they claim they were on the television or radio airwaves.  As the manager of KABF, a 100,000-watt noncommercial smack dab in the middle of the state with more than 50,000 listeners per week, more than half of them lower income, I can absolutely tell you we never received a public service announcement from them, much less any support for a real information promotion of the program.

Every other indication is one of abysmal failure.  The state conceded even when they had email address, only 20 to 30% opened the email.  Call centers said many didn’t answer their phones.  A professor from New York visited three counties in August and interviewed 18 people and 12 were unaware that work requirements even existed.  Other experts noted that an incentive system, even a punitive one trying to get more people into the workforce, won’t work if people don’t know about it.  Duh!

Adding injury to injury, all of the work hours are required to be submitted through the internet.  That’s the same internet thing that hundreds of thousands of Arkansans are not able to access, and even with access are not necessarily all-pro at using the state’s clunky website.

State officials in Arkansas need to start some truth telling.  These so-called work requirements are nothing of the kind.  This a pure and simple way to push eligible people off of Medicaid.  Hopefully a coming court hearing will stop this hypocrisy.

In the meantime, this is a scandal that none of us should be able to stomach.

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Please enjoy Johnny Guitar from Twisted Wheel.

Thanks to KABF.

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Fake-Work Ideology Will Kill People in Arkansas and Elsewhere

New Orleans    Study after study details the fact that with 45 million Americans employed in low-paying service sector jobs paying usually minimal wages for often part-time hours in a period of almost record low unemployment hovering around 4%, work in this age of excruciating inequality is simply not enough to get a family out of poverty.  A lengthy New York Times magazine article by Matthew Desmond of Evicted fame piled on as well.  Let’s face it, there is a work-myth that has gained ideological dominance for the last almost 50 years in a straight line from Ronald Reagan to many lesser rightwing conservatives today.  The heart of the myth is that there is a magic bullet that will eliminate poverty, as if they really cared, and that bullet is work, no matter how little it pays, how large the family, or where you live.

In these dark times states regularly bumping their butts on the bottom of the income ladder are competing to see how draconian they can be in punishing the poor for their own poverty.  West Virginia seemed to be winning the race for quite some time, and jumped out ahead of this rat pack in requesting an exemption from the federal Center for Medical Services (CMS) so that they could require a work test to receive the expanded Medicaid healthcare benefits allowed to the working poor under the Affordable Care Act.  Arkansas though jumped to the front of the death march in both securing the exemption and trumpeting their own cruelty.

Governor Asa Hutchinson recently lauded the fact that the state had been able to jettison 4300 from the expanded Medicaid program in the state for failure to report on their efforts to find work.  The requirements are 80-hours of something work-like such as training, job searches, or their equivalency.  If reports are not timely and correctly filed for three months, then the state has seized the right to bar you from health insurance for some period of time, regardless of the circumstances or in fact your health.  Many of the recipients were exempted from this requirement because of infirmities recognized by the state or the fact that their children were too young, but the rest had their backs against this work-vs-welfare ideological wall.  The governor claimed that 1000 got jobs, but lord knows whether that made them less poor and it certainly did not necessarily mean that they were off of Medicaid.  There are 16,000 Arkansas families that are on the bubble, and these 4300 are the ones that hit the 3-month mark of failing to get their reports into the state in a timely fashion.

Experts and observers nationally and in Arkansas are asking CMS to suspend approval of these work requirements until there is more information on why so many are being disqualified.  Is it inability to access the internet, difficult forms, illiteracy, distance from state offices, or what?  Studies in other programs and states have established that simply requiring regular reporting period will reduce the rolls for entitlement programs.

There is no doubt on one score.  People will die without healthcare and while conservative ideologues tout their success in punishing the poor.  Who will ever wash the blood off of their hands?

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