Photo: AP

Arkansas’ Medicaid work requirements, which already proved to be a disaster months after their implementation in June, has kicked thousands of people off the state’s Medicaid rolls in the months since for “failing” to long their mandatory 80-hours of monthly work or volunteering, Politico reported on Sunday.

In June, Arkansas implemented a policy requiring Medicaid enrollees between the ages of 30 and 49 to log 80 hours of work, job training, or volunteering a month, arguing that it would give people an “opportunity to work.” People who failed to log their hours for three consecutive months would instead be removed from Medicaid for the rest of the year.

Now, we have a better idea of just how many people this requirement has screwed over. As of June, per Politico, Arkansas removed more than 16,000 low-income adults, including 4,655 in November. In that month, only 1,438 low-income adults required to report hours had logged their 80 minimum. Another 8,400 failed to report the minimum, with 98 percent of those people not reporting any work hours at all, according to the state’s Department of Human Services. In January, the state plans to expand the reporting requirement to enrollees ages 19 to 29, meaning that the number of people losing Medicaid coverage could increase significantly.

It’s pretty clear to anyone listening to the people affected why this is happening. Enrollees Politico spoke with called the website used to report their monthly 80 hours of work or volunteering “nightmarish” and “confusing,” full of “clunky technology.” They also bemoaned the difficulty in getting in touch with anyone from the state for help navigating the site, which can take hours just to log on for the first time but shuts down at 9 p.m. every night. Arkansas, in response, has “belatedly” made accommodations for people without internet access, including a new phone line and county office kiosks for reporting, but it hasn’t hired additional workers to help enrollees with the requirements.

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One former Medicaid enrollee, Jamie Deyo, told Politico that the state sent a letter notifying her of the work requirements to the wrong address, leaving her to go months without reporting hours simply because she didn’t know she had to. Deyo, who has rheumatoid arthritis and back problems from a 2013 car accident, has now lost her coverage. Because of that, she told Politico, Deyo can’t go to her physical therapist, she can’t get surgery for a broken screw in her back, and she has to pay more for her medication. (Deyo is one of nine plaintiffs suing the state and federal governments over the requirements.)

Despite real people facing issues with the logistics of the state’s policy, Gov. Asa Hutchinson thinks the state is doing a perfectly fine job alerting people about the possibility of losing their coverage. From Politico, emphasis mine:

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson defended the program, saying it provides the help residents need to become independent. “These are not people that didn’t want to work,” he said in an interview. “It’s just they might not have had the training they needed, or they didn’t have a job opportunity and they needed additional assistance. And that’s what the objective is of the program.”

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Hutchinson scoffed at critics who say the state isn’t doing enough, citing examples such as the Department of Human Services making more than 155,000 phone calls to educate enrollees about the rules. The state is also planning a new advertising campaign.

“You could show that it was 100 percent successful in every way and they would still criticize it, because they don’t believe that any responsibility should have to accompany a social benefit such as Medicaid,” Hutchinson said. “The criticism is based upon myths and misunderstandings and a totally different philosophy.”

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Regardless of Hutchinson’s stated intentions with the program, these work requirements aren’t helping people become independent, and stories of people losing their healthcare coverage because they didn’t know they had a work requirement aren’t “myths and misunderstandings.” Coupled with the state’s lack of information and poor technology, these requirements are stripping people of their independence, offering them no real assistance in getting work and pushing them further behind by taking away the Medicaid coverage allowing them to exercise their independence in the first place.