An Arkansas policy backed by the Trump administration that requires people to have a job or lose Medicaid coverage will drop 4,353 people from the health program.
The Trump administration in January allowed states to propose so-called work requirements in Medicaid, the state-federal health care program that covers more than 73 million low-income Americans. It’s the first time the federal government has allowed a work requirement in the program since it was created in 1965, and part of a broader effort by the administration to put new conditions on people who use government assistance programs.
Asa Hutchinson, Arkansas’s Republican governor, said that many people had met the requirements, and the state is only dropping those that didn’t.
“That number is higher than we would prefer,” Hutchinson said during a news conference Wednesday. “We would like to see everyone in full compliance.”
People subject to the rules have to report 80 hours a month of work or other activity such as job training, education, or volunteering. If they’re out of compliance for three months out of the year, their coverage is revoked for the rest of the year. The change will save the state about $30 million, Hutchinson estimated.
The policy puts Arkansas at the center of a fierce legal and political fight over Medicaid, which has long been a fall-back health care option for the poor. Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid was expanded to cover uninsured Americans through a mix of public and private insurance.
The terminations come as the Census bureau on Wednesday reported that annual gains in health insurance coverage stalled in the first year of the Trump administration. The uninsured rate in the U.S. remained at 8.8% in 2017, even as employers, the main source of coverage for Americans, added more than 2 million jobs last year.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, whose agency approved the work requirements and is defending them in court, said his goal is to expand insurance coverage overall.
“We want people to have access to affordable insurance,” he said in an interview with at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York Wednesday. “The Affordable Care Act has not only failed to deliver on the promise that was made there, but actually made insurance less affordable, less accessible, less choice for individuals.”
A coalition of legal groups has challenged the Arkansas work requirements in federal court in Washington. An earlier lawsuit in the same court temporarily blocked work requirements in Kentucky’s Medicaid program that were set to take effect this summer.