Gov. Asa Hutchinson has responded sharply to the lawsuit challenging the legality of the state’s new work requirement for Medicaid coverage and also criticizing the online-only reporting requirement. His statement:

“This lawsuit has one goal, which is to undermine our efforts to bring Arkansans back into the workforce, increase worker training, and to offer improved economic prospects for those who desire to be less dependent on the government.

“As for the process of reporting work, DHS is providing substantial assistance to anyone that has limited access to internet or who may encounter additional challenges. Our goal is to assist those in compliance so that their healthcare coverage continues; however, we must have an accountable system that does not leave thousands of able-bodied recipients on the Medicaid rolls who may not qualify for a whole host of reasons.

“This lawsuit comes as no surprise. It is particularly disappointing, though, when you consider that the group making the challenge is, in part, funded by federal taxpayer dollars. They have a consistent history of trying to thwart any effort to transform and bring accountability to our Medicaid program.”

Problems:

1. The governor didn’t respond to the legal arguments of the lawsuit, which mirror ones made successfully earlier by a challenge of a similar Kentucky rule. The law doesn’t allow the executive branch to waive coverage for a population — nonworkers in this case — designated by the state.

2. The evidence is deep that work rules do not increase employment and that they make it harder for people to get out of poverty.

3. Two months in and results are catastrophically bad. See item below. In July 844 satisfied the reporting requirement, more than 12,000 did not.

4. Accountability? Depends on where you sit. Some might welcome a government advocate for protecting Medicaid as designed — to provide health benefits for poor people.The governor and the spokesman who released this statement — not to mention the many six-figure state employees at DHS who are implementing it — draw taxpayer dollars in the campaign to afflict the poor.

5. People.  Consider Hutchinson’s blithe assurance that the rule will make people responsible against the story of one plaintiff:

Plaintiff Cesar Ardon is a 40-year-old man who lives in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

Mr. Ardon worked as a welder for fifteen years until he had a tumor surgery in May
2017. Currently, Mr. Ardon works in construction as a self-employed handyman doing mostly outdoor work. His income and hours fluctuate greatly from month to month. He earned about $1,200 in July 2018 but typically earns less during other times of year.

As a self-employed handyman, Mr. Ardon’s work hours change from week to week based on the type of work he gets. Sometimes he is able to work 20 hours a week; other times, especially in the fall and winter when work is slower, he works less.

Prior to receiving Medicaid in 2017, Mr. Ardon often did not get the medical care that he needed. For example, he did not get treatment for carpal tunnel, arthritis, and vision issues because he could not afford it.

In 2017, Mr. Ardon had major surgery to remove a baseball-sized tumor on his side. He also currently has medical conditions that require monitoring, such as high cholesterol. With Medicaid, he is able to get the treatment and services he needs, as well as annual check-ups.

In May 2018, Mr. Ardon received a notice stating he would have to work at least 80 hours a month to keep his Medicaid coverage. Mr. Ardon did not have enough hours to meet the work requirement in June 2018 and received a notice from DHS in July 2018 that he failed to comply with the work requirements for June.

In July 2018, Mr. Ardon was able to work enough hours to meet the work requirement. Although he met the hours requirement, Mr. Ardon had trouble accessing the online portal to report his hours. He has not received confirmation that his online report for July 2018’s work activities was accepted.

Mr. Ardon does not expect to always be able to get 80 hours of month of work, such that he will be able to meet the requirements. Mr. Ardon is concerned that he will lose his Medicaid coverage because he will not be able to meet the work requirements or because of problems reporting on the online portal. Mr. Ardon worries about getting sick, being unable to work, and losing access to health care if he loses his Medicaid coverage.

Mr. Ardon fears what will happen because he cannot predict his future or health. He depends on Medicaid to help him get through the ups and downs of life, especially if he has trouble finding work. 

And the governor’s rule “increases his economic prospects” how?