Thursday, August 6, 2015

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK –The state Human Services Department (DHS) will hire an additional 35 employees and reassign another 20 workers to speed up the process of verifying that people now on Medicaid are truly eligible for services.
            The governor lifted a hiring freeze for DHS so that it could add 35 employees. Also, the department has authorized employees to work overtime so they can more quickly clear the backlog of responses from Medicaid recipients.
            The state must verify the annual incomes of about 600,000 Arkansas residents who receive some form of Medicaid services by the end of September. The deadline was set by the federal government, which funds about 70 percent of the Arkansas Medicaid program.
            The process has been a bureaucratic headache from the beginning. The department was slow to begin the process because of problems installing a new computer system to handle the verifications. The previous system was 25 years old.
            Many legislators have expressed frustrations about delays and mistakes in the department’s signing of contracts with technology firms that have worked on the new system. The anticipated cost will be an estimated $200 million by the time it is functional, according to reports from DHS to legislative committees.
            Other legislators have voiced concerns that thousands of people perhaps are being dropped from the Medicaid program, even though their incomes make them eligible. DHS sent letters to all recipients whose incomes varied by more than 10 percent over last year, asking them to respond with updated information. The letters were sent to people even if their incomes dropped by 10 percent.
            People who fail to respond to the letters within 10 days would receive letters that their Medicaid coverage was being cancelled. DHS is hiring additional staff to handle the volume of responses.
            About 47,000 people will lose their Medicaid coverage by the end of August because they have failed to respond to the initial letter from DHS. Those letters began going out in mid June.
            Those who have lost coverage have 90 days to appeal, and if successful their coverage would retroactively pay for medical bills incurred during the lapse.
Most of the people who are being dropped are enrolled in the “private option” Medicaid plan, which means that they are covered by a private health insurance company and the government subsidizes their premiums. Losing their eligibility may make it difficult to return to their preferred health plan.
DHS is the single largest state agency, with about 7,200 employees in all 75 Arkansas counties. Many counties have more than one DHS office. The department provides medical services to pregnant mothers, newborns, children and people of all ages, including senior citizens in long-term care facilities.
The department oversees the regulation of nursing homes and child care centers. It locates abused and neglected children in foster homes. It administers programs to deliver hot meals to elderly people. It operates care facilities for people with mental illnesses. It runs detention centers for juveniles who have gotten in trouble. It runs long-term care facilities for people with severe and multiple disabilities.
This fiscal year the department is budgeted to spend about $8.4 billion in state and federal funds.

No comments: