Arkansas health officials ask state for $400M to cover increased Medicaid costs

Officials with the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) said they need an extra $400 million to cover rising Medicaid costs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The request was made Wednesday during a meeting of the Joint Budget Committee.

DHS Secretary Cindy Gillespie said the department cannot kick off anyone from Medicaid except for specific reasons as long as the federal government’s public health emergency declaration remains in place. Those reasons include a person’s death or if they are sent to prison.

If DHS withdrew Medicaid benefits from an individual for other reasons, it would lose out on extra federal funds, Gillespie said. As a result, the amount of people receiving Medicaid benefits has grown over the course of the pandemic and sparked increased costs to run the program.

The federal government increased the amount of Medicaid reimbursement to states when the public health emergency was first declared in March 2020. In order to hold onto that funding, states were restricted from removing most people from Medicaid.

Arkansas has received around $85 million per quarter in federal taxpayer money to cover Medicaid, according to Dawn Stehle, the deputy director for health and the Medicaid director.

Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, called the federal restrictions in exchange for more money a “deal with the devil.”

“They’re going to own us for the rest of the time until we get out of this emergency,” Garner said. “We cannot kick people off Medicaid. We cannot get out of the program without risking funds. We’re in it till the end of time, and it sounds like there was 80-plus million dollars that the taxpayers of Arkansas didn’t have to pay last year through the state government. Of course, they’re federal taxpayer dollars. That’s a completely different argument. And we get that free federal money that our people pay for. My question is when does that money go back to the people?”

Garner also asked how much money hospitals were receiving from the DHS. Stehle said it likely was hundreds of millions of dollars when money from the American Rescue Plan Act was factored in.

The extra financial boost for Medicaid goes away once the public health emergency is no longer in place.

However, there is a chance the emergency will be extended again as was the case earlier this month, when the Biden administration extended it for an additional 90 days, Gillespie said.

This article was originally posted on Arkansas health officials ask state for $400M to cover increased Medicaid costs