Protesters rally against the state's Medicaid purge in June 2023. Brian Chilson

The Arkansas Department of Human Services announced Monday it kicked 53,553 people off the state’s Medicaid program in September, wrapping up its six-month process of removing supposedly ineligible individuals from the safety-net health insurance program. Over 17,000 children and infants were among the Arkansans who lost coverage.

Medicaid enrollment grew dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic due to special rules put in place by the federal government. Federal Medicaid authorities effectively required states to keep people on Medicaid even if they became ineligible (due to a rise in income, for example). Those special rules expired earlier this year when President Biden ended the COVID Public Health Emergency, and states are now scouring their Medicaid rolls of people who are no longer eligible.

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But some are moving faster than others. Arkansas has purged a greater share of its Medicaid recipients over the past few months than any other state, according to numbers compiled by the Arkansas Times last month. The state legislature passed a law in 2021 requiring DHS to complete the process within six months of being permitted to do so by federal authorities. The agency began doing so in April and finished last month.

“Medicaid resources should go to Arkansans who qualify for them, and not for those who are ineligible,” DHS Secretary Kristi Putnam said in a statement Monday. “I’m proud of the work that staff across our entire agency performed over the last six months to ensure that our program is serving only those who truly need Medicaid.”

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As in previous months, a large percentage of those kicked off in September were removed for “procedural” reasons, such as not providing paperwork; it’s impossible to say whether or not they were actually ineligible. The DHS report says 21,630 people had their cases closed for “failure to return renewal form.” Another 9,750 didn’t return some other piece of requested information.

September’s figures bring the total number of Medicaid cases closed over the course of the six-month “unwinding” period to more than 427,000, according to DHS.

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That’s an enormous figure for a state with a population of 3 million. Arkansas’s Medicaid enrollment as of April 1 was a little over 1 million.

It should be noted that 427,000 closed cases over a six-month period isn’t necessarily equivalent to a 427,000 drop in Medicaid enrollment or 427,000 newly uninsured people. Many of those who actually were ineligible have surely found health coverage elsewhere, from employer-based insurance to the federally subsidized individual marketplace. Others have almost certainly signed up for Medicaid again soon after DHS booted them off. As we noted in September, the state’s data suggests tens of thousands of people kicked off in earlier months of the “unwinding” period have successfully reapplied for Medicaid coverage since then. But some unknown number of others, including children, are likely going without insurance altogether.

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