Arkansas health officials are asking the state for $400 million to cover rising Medicaid costs

Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) officials said they need an additional $400 million to cover rising Medicaid costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

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

If DHS withdrew Medicaid benefits from an individual for other reasons, it would lose additional federal funds, Gillespie said. As a result, the number of people receiving Medicaid benefits has increased during the pandemic and has increased the costs of running 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 retain this funding, states were not allowed to withdraw most Medicaid people.

Arkansas received about $85 million a quarter in federal taxpayer money to cover Medicaid, according to Dawn Stehle, deputy health director and director of Medicaid.

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 can’t kick people out of Medicaid. We cannot exit the program without risking funds. We’re in it till the end of time, and it looks like there was over $80 million that Arkansas taxpayers didn’t have to pay last year through the government of Arkansas. ‘State. Of course, this is federal taxpayers’ money. It’s a completely different argument. And we get this free federal money that our people pay. My question is when will this money come back to the people? »

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

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

However, it’s possible the emergency could be extended again, as was the case earlier this month, when the Biden administration extended it an additional 90 days, Gillespie said.

About Raymond A. Bentley

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