Thousands of Americans -- many low-income -- are at risk of losing Medicaid health care insurance coverage as states implement work requirements pushed and approved by the Trump administration.
In Arkansas, more than 5,400 people failed to comply with the work requirements for the past two months, according to a monthly report provided by the Arkansas Department of Human Services putting them in a position to lose their coverage if they don't comply in August.
If residents don't submit information that proves they work, attend school or job training, or volunteer at least 80 hours a month during three months a year, they could be frozen from applying for Medicaid until next year.
Under the Arkansas requirements, residents who want to submit proof that they worked or apply for an exemption have to do so through an online portal, which has been reported as a problem for people without reliable internet access. Advocates for people who are homeless have also said they struggled to help them apply for exemptions, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
Advocates in Arkansas filed a lawsuit this week on behalf of residents that could lose Medicaid coverage challenging the administration's decision to approve the policy.
One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Cesar Ardon, says he used Medicaid for treatment following a surgery to remove a tumor from his torso last year and other health problems like arthritis, carpal tunnel, and high cholesterol.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed the lawsuit, says Ardon works as a handyman and has unpredictable work hours but falls under the requirement to show that he works at least 20 hours a week to keep his coverage. He reportedly received a notice that he did not meet the requirement in June and had trouble submitting his report for July because of a bad internet connection.
Ardon said in a statement that he sometimes can't afford his internet bill to report his work hours.
“I worry about getting sick and being unable to work and access health care if I lost my Medicaid coverage,” said Ardon. “I hope this lawsuit will help others like me. No one should have to lose their Medicaid coverage just because they are having trouble finding enough work.”
The state is phasing in the requirements gradually so not everyone eligible for Medicaid is subject to them yet. They apply to about 46,000 adults ages 30-49 in the state and data shows that more than 30,000 automatically met the requirements. Of the 13,000 people that were required to report through the state's online system the data shows that only 844 reported enough hours to meet the requirements and a spokeswoman said most of them did not report anything.
“We're seeing what we didn't want to see, we want to see those numbers go up, we want to see more and more people meet the work requirement,” another DHS spokesperson Marci Manley told ABC affiliate KATV.
In January, the Trump administration told states it would support programs that require residents to work, attend school, or enroll in job training programs to receive Medicaid benefits. Administration officials have also said they would support work requirements on aid programs like nutrition and housing assistance.
“People who participate in activities that increase their education and training are more likely to find sustainable employment, have higher earnings, a better quality of life, and, studies have shown, improved health outcomes,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Selma Verna said at the time.
Arkansas, New Hampshire, and Indiana have been granted waivers to add a work requirement component to Medicaid programs and at least seven more states have requested waivers, according to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation.