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Sunday, July 14, 2024

State Capitol Week in Review

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LITTLE ROCK – In large part because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the state Human Services Department has a backlog of applications for Medicaid.

Not only has the pandemic has caused layoffs and forced some businesses to close, it has reduced manpower at the department. That’s because quarantines have required state employees to stay away from the office temporarily. Also, while turnover is always an issue, during the pandemic DHS has experienced similar difficulties as some private businesses in filling staff shortages.

It has reached the point that DHS is contracting with a private company to help alleviate the backlog in Medicaid applications and provide “surge protection” in the event there is another swell of applications in the near future.

Legislators on the Review Subcommittee signed off on the proposed contract, which was to be considered next by the full Legislative Council. It is the panel of senior lawmakers that meets during the interim between legislative sessions to monitor state government operations.

The contract was for $29 million, with a Virginia-based firm. The company will help eliminate the backlog of applications for Medicaid, which had reached 50,000 in November. Part of the work involves determining whether or not applicants are eligible to receive services. 

The private company will recruit and train specialists in Medicaid eligibility. It has done similar work for the state in the past.

Medicaid is the state’s major provider of health coverage. It pays for care for most of the people in long-term care facilities and nursing homes. 

Medicaid pays for medical care for poor people and children in low-income families in which the parent works, but cannot afford private health insurance. Medicaid also pays for care and treatment of people with disabilities.

The backlog is affecting long-term care facilities such as nursing homes and assisted living centers, according to a DHS official. The facilities are getting delayed reimbursements from the government when they treat Medicaid recipients, which negatively affects their financial condition and worsens their staffing shortages.

The Senate and House co-chairs of the Legislative Council said they are particularly concerned about the effect on rural long-term care facilities when Medicaid reimbursements take a long time in processing.

Now, Medicaid applications are being considered under rules of the federal government’s declaration of a public health emergency. It is scheduled to expire at the end of March, and when it does it will affect many recipients’ eligibility. DHS expects a swell of casework caused by people having to re-apply for Medicaid services.

About a million Arkansas residents have received services paid for by the Medicaid program.

State legislators on the Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee signed off on sending $6.39 million in federal emergency relief funds to assisted living facilities, to help the centers hire and maintain staff.

The amount of relief funding that a facility gets will depend on the number of Medicaid patients it serves.

Legislators have already approved the use of federal relief funds to help hospitals and nursing homes meet staff shortages, and address costs related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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