Federal Government Calls on Arkansas to do Better by Kids

Arkansas should protect children’s health as much as possible

No child should lose health coverage because of red tape or unnecessary bureaucratic requirements. But more Arkansas children lost health coverage – both by number and percentage – than almost any other state in 2023. The federal Department of Health and Human Services called on Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders to take steps to ensure that as few children as possible lose health coverage as ARKids First renewals continue into 2024.  

In a letter dated today (Dec. 18th), HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra called on Sanders to ensure that no children lose ARKids coverage due to “red tape or other avoidable reasons.” Becerra suggested several data-driven strategies that could help Arkansas children keep their coverage, including adopting more flexible insurance-renewal procedures than the state has submitted to CMS.   

This has been an unprecedented year for insurance coverage losses for children and families in Arkansas. It all started in April when the state began the process of reviewing every person with Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage. Per a 2021 state law, Arkansas had to complete this recertification process in six months, disenrolling more than 427,000 Arkansans from Medicaid. This approach has resulted in a net decline of around 75,000 children from the ARKids First program (Arkansas’s child Medicaid and CHIP). That decline is sure to leave thousands of Arkansas children without preventative screenings, prescriptions, and other essential care coverage. The letter highlights the importance of cutting through administrative issues proving to be detrimental to children’s healthcare access in states like Arkansas.  

Though the first phase of the “unwinding” is over in Arkansas, tens of thousands of children have their Medicaid and ARKids coverage renewed every month on the state’s usual redetermination schedule. 

To support states’ renewal of eligible children and families more efficiently, CMS has authorized states to submit waivers to their Medicaid programs. Of the dozens of strategies, Arkansas has only adopted six. The letter highlights the urgency for Arkansas to adopt more of these flexible policies, which will be available for states to use throughout 2024. For example, Arkansas could use the list of families who receive TANF (Temporary Assistance For Needy Families) benefits to confirm that a child should still have ARKids coverage. That would make it easier for children who we know are eligible to keep their coverage. The state could also renew Medicaid eligibility for individuals with no income on an automatic basis.  

Secretary Becerra also urges Governor Sanders to take more steps to reach eligible families who have lost coverage. The state could partner with schools, community-based organizations, pediatric providers, and call centers with language interpretation staff.  

Arkansas has long been a leader in working to ensure that every child has health care coverage. In the past months, we’ve reversed many of the gains we’ve made over a quarter-century. Children in our state are relying on us to do everything possible to ensure all Arkansas children have the crucial care they need and deserve to be healthy.