Our cover story this week is about the Medicaid eligibility verification mess that’s resulted in a loss of health benefits for 36,000 Arkansans, with 13,000 more set to lose their insurance at the end of this month. Here’s another personal story from someone who’s lost private option coverage. Even if this somehow fits into Department of Human Services rules, it’s nuts.
Steve Whiteaker lives in Conway. He is the owner of Double Helix Farms, where he breeds tomatoes, except he has barely been able to work since he was bitten by a tick in 2012 and developed Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. I learned this fact then, when I was writing a story on Whiteaker and his farm and his tomato research. Steve was insured through the private option until recently.
Whiteaker has a 14-year-old son named Max. Max is covered under his mother’s private health care policy. (The parents are divorced.) Max is not on Medicaid.
Yet, Access Arkansas — the system DHS is using to verify eligibility for private option recipients — sent a letter to Max Whiteaker telling him he had 10 days to provide information on his income so he could retain his eligibility. Max’s letter came to Steve Whiteaker’s address past the 10-day mark. Whiteaker, not surprisingly, was perplexed by the letter. Why would his son be asked for income information when (a) Max isn’t covered by Medicaid and (b) he’s 14 years old?
A couple of days after Max’s letter arrived, Steve Whiteaker got one addressed to himself saying he would be terminated from the private option July 31.
Whiteaker called the Access Arkansas phone number on the letter and, not surprisingly, did not get through the first time, or the second time. After spending a total of nine hours and 40 minutes on hold over the course of several days, he reached someone. He explained that his son got a letter, his son is 14, and he wasn’t even sure if it was legal for 14-year-olds to work and what the heck?
“The person I talked to in Batesville, she was very nice and apologetic,” Whiteaker said, but she said that because Max had not provided any income information, Steve Whiteaker’s insurance could be terminated. She said that Max’s living with his father might have had something to do with the problem. (In case you’re wondering, Steve and Max do not share a common middle name.) At any rate, Steve was instructed to have his 14-year-old sign a letter to the effect that he has no income and mail it in. Whiteaker did that, and mailed in his 2014 tax returns and information on his income to date as well.
Whiteaker said he also tried to talk to someone in the Faulkner County DHS office, but was told by two different workers they couldn’t help him. He says both hung up the phone on him and a third person transferred him to voice mail.
Yesterday, Whiteaker got a letter from Otis Hogan in the DHS Office of Appeals and Hearings saying a hearing had been set in a case called Whiteaker v. DHS on July 31. Whiteaker was unaware he’d initiated an appeal process.
Whiteaker has a doctor’s appointment on Aug. 24 and has prescriptions to refill. He figures he’ll be out about $450, since he currently has no insurance.