Thousands of Arkansas Medicaid recipients must start working in June

Medicaid patient: 'I miss working'
Medicaid patient: 'I miss working'

Tens of thousands of low-income Arkansas residents will have to start working in June if they want to keep their Medicaid benefits.

The state received approval from the Trump administration Monday to impose work requirements on certain non-elderly, non-disabled beneficiaries who don't have dependent children at home. It joins Kentucky and Indiana in being granted such a waiver, but Arkansas plans to put the requirement into effect earlier than the other states.

The administration, however, is still reviewing a more controversial provision in the Arkansas waiver. The state wants to scale back Medicaid expansion to cover only adults earning up to 100% of the poverty level, or roughly $12,000, while still receiving the enhanced match from the federal government.

Under Obamacare, states that expand Medicaid agree to open the program to those earning up to 138% of the poverty level. The federal government covers at least 90% of the costs.

Related: Trump administration allows states to make Medicaid recipients work

Arkansas will roll out the work requirement in stages. This year, only enrollees age 30 to 49 will be subject to the work mandate, which will be broadened to include 19- to 29-year-olds in 2019.

Up to 39,000 recipients could be affected this year, according to Arkansas' Department of Human Services.

The approvals mark the first time ever that states have been allowed to mandate Medicaid enrollees to work in exchange for benefits. At least eight other states have filed similar waivers and another nine are exploring the issue, said Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The Trump administration and Republican officials are positioning work requirements as an opportunity to improve Medicaid recipients' health and financial independence.

Related: Mike Pence's home state can now require Medicaid recipients to work

"This is not about punishing anyone," said Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican. "It's about giving people an opportunity to work. It's to give them the training that they need. It's to help them move out of poverty and up the economic ladder,"

Consumer advocates, however, say such measures will leave many more Americans uninsured. Already, three groups are suing the administration seeking to stop the approvals.

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