Arkansas’ governor on Thursday touted an 11 percent drop in the state’s Medicaid rolls over the past year as he prepared for another potential fight in the Legislature to keep the state’s hybrid Medicaid expansion alive.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Department of Human Services officials said that enrollment in the state’s Medicaid program dropped by more than 117,000 people from 2017 to 2018. Nearly 59,000 of that came from the state’s hybrid expansion, which uses Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents.
Hutchinson said the causes of the decline were better reviews of the rolls to remove those who were no longer eligible, as well as more participants finding work and moving off the program.
The Republican governor announced the enrollment figures a little over a month before the Legislature meets for a session focused primarily on the state’s budget. A pair of vacancies in the state Senate that won’t be filled until a special election in May has created uncertainty on whether there are enough votes to continue the Medicaid expansion, which requires three-fourths support.
The budget bill that funded the Medicaid expansion passed the Senate last year with 27 votes, the minimum needed in the 35-member chamber.
Some lawmakers have floated the possibility of a special session to take up the Medicaid budget after the Senate seats are filled. Hutchinson didn’t specifically rule out that possibility, but said he expected there would be enough support for the measure in next month’s session.
“This is news that I think will be well received by the Legislature,” Hutchinson told reporters at a news conference in his office. “It gives them confidence in the reform efforts they initiated that we’re carrying out with the task force. They’re rightfully concerned about the state budget numbers and Medicaid growth, and this should give them a higher level of confidence that this trend will continue.”
Hutchinson said he was confident the federal government would approve changes the state is seeking to the hybrid expansion that would move 60,000 people off the program by lowering the eligibility cap. The changes would also require some participants to work.
Hutchinson also announced the state is seeking nearly $478 million less in federal and state money for its Medicaid budget in the coming fiscal year than originally projected. The governor is scheduled to release his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year on Tuesday.