LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas will begin reviewing the assets of some people enrolled in the state’s Medicaid expansion program under a pilot program set to launch next month, state Department of Human Services officials said Friday.
Federal officials have told Gov. Asa Hutchinson the state cannot include an assets test as an eligibility requirement for the Arkansas Works program, formerly known as the private option. In an informal meeting Friday with reporters at DHS headquarters, DHS officials said they are preparing to launch an asset verification pilot program but said they will use it to check for unreported income, not as part of an asset test.
Arkansas Works provides government-subsidized private health insurance to Arkansans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level and was created in 2013 as an alternative to the expansion of state Medicaid rolls envisioned in the federal Affordable Care Act. That law allows people’s income levels, but not their assets, to be used to determine their eligibility for expanded Medicaid.
“We’re going to use (the pilot program) as a tool to see if there may be unreported income,” said Mary Franklin, director of DHS’ Division of County Operations. “If we have someone that we find out through this asset verification pilot has large sums of money in the bank and we look at their case and we don’t have (reported) income, we’re going to ask about that.”
If DHS finds that a person appears to have failed to report his or her income accurately, the person will be sent a letter requesting more information, Franklin said. A person whose income is found to be over 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or who does not respond to the letter, will be subject to termination of Arkansas Works benefits and a DHS investigation.
In February, Arkansas plans to review the assets of 5,000 people who are enrolled in both Arkansas Works and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The state will review the assets of another 5,000 Arkansans who are enrolled in both programs in March and another 5,000 in April.
Franklin said the pilot program will target people enrolled in both programs because SNAP does have an asset test.
“We feel like we’ll get a better response from a group of people who does have an asset test than we might from a group that has no asset test,” she said.
The pilot program also will check for people whose assets exceed the SNAP limit of $2,250 for a household with no elderly or disabled member or $3,250 for a household with an elderly or disabled member.
A vendor will conduct the asset reviews by obtaining participants’ bank balances from their banks, Franklin said. The pilot program will cost the state $87,900, she said.
DHS officials also said that in November and December they sent letters to all Arkansas Works enrollees telling them about a new element to the program. As of Jan. 1, DHS provides every enrollee with a referral to the Department of Workforce Services for services — which are not mandatory for enrollees — related to work training and job searches.
The governor and the Legislature enacted legislation last year requiring DHS to provide workforce services referrals to Arkansas Works enrollees who earn less than 50 percent of the federal poverty level, but DHS officials said Friday the agency has decided to go beyond what the law requires and provide a referral to everyone in the program.
“If you’re making 51 percent of the federal poverty level, you want help moving up the income ladder. You need access to these kinds of services,” said DHS Director Cindy Gillespie.
Department of Workforce Services Director Daryl Bassett said, “We didn’t want to be in a position where we were picking winners and losers among Arkansas’ workers.”