LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas has asked the federal government for permission to change the state’s procedures for checking Medicaid eligibility in the interest of greater efficiency and accuracy, Department of Human Services Director John Selig said Monday.

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas has asked the federal government for permission to change the state’s procedures for checking Medicaid eligibility in the interest of greater efficiency and accuracy, Department of Human Services Director John Selig said Monday.


Selig also said the federal government has allowed an extension of the state’s deadline for re-verifying the eligibility of about 600,000 Arkansans enrolled in Medicaid programs, including the private option. Originally set at Oct. 1, the deadline has been moved to Dec. 31.


At the direction of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, DHS recently reached out to federal Medicaid officials to ask about the possibility of changing some eligibility-verification procedures, Selig told reporters after testifying Monday before the House and Senate committees on public health, welfare and labor.


Agency officials have acknowledged problems in re-verifying the eligibility of people already enrolled in Medicaid programs and in verifying the eligibility of new applicants. More than 60,000 Arkansans have seen their coverage canceled in the re-verification process, of whom more than 14,000 have had their coverage reinstated after proving they remain eligible. Also, some have complained of long delays in enrolling people for the first time.


Terminations of coverage have been halted twice, first so DHS could catch up on a backlog and later so the agency could expand the amount of time that people are given to respond to a request for income verification from 10 days to 30 days, at the direction of the federal government. Terminations remain on hold for now.


"We’re just talking with (federal Medicaid officials) about how we use data from different sources, such as our workforce data, and (asking), ‘Are there ways we can use that data where our employees are not having to touch so many cases?’" Selig told reporters.


The re-verification process had been expected to start in January and be mostly automated. Instead, it started this summer, and most cases are being handled manually.


"We had hoped that about 80 percent of them would be automated; right now only about 20 percent of them are automated," Selig said. "That obviously is creating huge backlogs and causing us to do a lot of overtime."


He said there are federal — and possibly state — rules limiting the sharing of information between state agencies, but relaxing some of those rules and linking data sources between agencies might improve the process.


Under the current system, DHS would compare its data about a client’s income with Department of Workforce Services data, and if the numbers differed by at least 10 percent and one of the income levels was outside the eligibility range, or if DWS had no data, the person would be sent a notice asking for proof of income level. The vast majority of people whose coverage was terminated did not respond to the notice before the then 10-day deadline.


Selig said the agency would like permission from federal officials to regard a lack of DWS data as evidence that a person has no income and therefore remains eligible.


"We’d like to be say, that means in effect they had zero income reported by an employer," he said. "If they allow us to accept that, then that would be the verification. We wouldn’t have to go out and re-verify."


So far, DHS has completed or at least begun the re-verification process for about 400,000 people.