LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced Wednesday she would ask the federal government to allow for new requirements for some ARHOME applicants. Able-bodied adults would be required to work, volunteer or go to school.
“We have to get more people off the sidelines and in the game,” Sanders said.
Sanders said this is to address a workforce shortage in Arkansas.
“If approved, this will immediately address our state’s workforce challenges and empower thousands of Arkansans to escape the trap of government dependency,” Sanders said.
ARHOME is a program that came to Arkansas around a year ago through the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion.
“It provides coverage through major private insurers instead of the traditional fee-for-service setup,” Sanders said.
In 2018, Arkansas became the first state to implement work requirements for Medicaid. A federal judge ultimately issued a pause on the policy nearly a year later.
Democratic lawmakers spoke out against the proposal, accusing the administration of trying to grab headlines.
“A decade ago in Arkansas, Republicans and Democrats united to make historic gains in expanding health insurance to more than 300,000 Arkansans,” Democratic Party of Arkansas spokesperson Wil Watson said. “Now, Governor Sanders plans to waste our state’s time and money trying to undo that progress with a mean-spirited tactic already rejected by a federal judge. It will hurt Arkansans and fail in the courts, which she knows but can’t resist a headline. Democrats are focused on building a better and healthier Arkansas, even if she’s not.”
State Sen. Greg Leding said he does not think work requirements have a positive impact. A study conducted by the Commonwealth Fund broke down the year Arkansas had that policy, and it concluded there were no positive workforce impacts.
“They sound great politically,” Leding said. “It’s something people like to say, but it doesn’t really have the desired effect.”
Sanders said people who do not meet the requirements would not lose coverage in this case, instead going back to regular Medicaid benefits.
“By making this innovation, we are complying with past court rulings,” Sanders said.
Republicans and conservatives praised Sanders’ announcement, calling it a solution to a state problem.
“Governor Sanders’ proposal is an innovative solution to a serious problem. Medicaid dependency is out of control in Arkansas, with now more than 1 in 3 Arkansans trapped on the program,” CEO of Opportunity Arkansas Nic Horton said. “This is being largely driven by enrollment of able-bodied, working-age adults. We need bold reform; the status quo is not acceptable. Governor Sanders clearly recognizes this and is leading. Arkansas needs more workers and this plan is a step towards that.”
Sander said the goal is to make people less dependent on government while still attaining much-needed benefits.