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Capitol update

By submitted, 04/20/18 9:19 AM

LITTLE ROCK – The state has seen a drop in the number of people enrolled in Arkansas Works, the Arkansas version of an expanded Medicaid program.

During the month of March, enrollment in Arkansas Works fell by 3,637 people, from about 284,000 to about 281,000.

The decline comes even before the state imposes stricter eligibility requirements that call for some Medicaid recipients either to work or to look for a job in order to continue receiving benefits.

Medicaid is administered by the state Human Services Department, which released a monthly report for March detailing expenditures and enrollment.

The report breaks down Medicaid into two statistical categories – traditional Medicaid and Arkansas Works. Medicaid provides health coverage for people with disabilities, the elderly who are in long-term care facilities, and low-income families.

The number of people who are eligible for traditional Medicaid fluctuates, and has hovered around 700,000 for the past few years. The March report indicates that 235,436 adults and 418,278 children are enrolled in traditional Medicaid.

Arkansas Works, previously known as the private option, is the version that Arkansas implemented after Congress enacted federal health care changes in 2010. The affordable care act took effect after several years and numerous court battles.

After the federal government enacted an expanded version of Medicaid, implementation at the state level has been the most controversial issue facing Arkansas legislators. Every legislative session, controversy centers around its cost.

Renewing Arkansas Works requires a 75 percent majority of the legislature, and the legislature reaches that supermajority every year by a close vote.

The state’s Medicaid population, in both categories, is now 963,758. The entire state population is a little more than 3 million people.

The work and job training requirements for Arkansas Works will go into effect in June for recipients aged 30 to 49. They must participate in work activities to keep their benefits, but there will be exemptions for pregnant women, people with disabilities, caregivers, people in drug treatment and people in full-time job training or vocational school.

People enrolled in Arkansas Works are scheduled to receive a notice in April advising them of the new requirements.

Kentucky and Indiana also have approved work requirements.

School Safety Commission

At a meeting of the newly-created Arkansas School Safety Commission, a spokesman for school administrators said that financial support from the state would be necessary in order to hire armed security officers and put in place safety measures.

Security improvements include video cameras, door locks, fences and radio equipment.

In addition to firearms training, some staff should be trained in mental health counseling and behavior analysis. Schools would need additional funding if their licensed staff who are permitted to carry firearms are screened for illegal drug use, and if they take psychological examinations.

Each school district has its own distinct needs in order to upgrade security. For example, in some areas, the availability of police officers and deputies is limited.