The Democratic Party is calling on Gov. Asa Hutchinson to extend the 10-day limit given private option health insurance recipients to respond to questions about income eligibility before dropping them from the program.
“Today the Democratic Party of Arkansas calls upon Governor Asa Hutchinson to extend the ten day deadline for Arkansans on Medicaid to respond to the State’s reauthorization request. Ten days is an arbitrary, and unfair deadline to place on people with Medicaid or private option health insurance. The federal Healthcare Law gives states up to 90 days for Medicaid recipients to respond to annual reauthorization requests, and most insurance companies give at least 30 days grace period.
‘Nearly 50,000 cancelations are expected by the end of this month, 97 percent of which are directly connected to the ten day deadline. These cancelations represent real people. These are fellow Arkansans, not simply numbers on a spreadsheet. Clearly the Hutchinson administration was ill prepared for the reauthorization process and the number of calls generated by the ten-day deadline.
‘I am also issuing a Call to Action. If you think Arkansans deserve a fair amount of time to comply with the Medicaid reauthorization requests call the Governor at (501) 682-2345 and tell him to extend the deadline.”
To date, the governor hasn’t been open to extending the response time. I’ve asked his office again today whether he might reconsider.
UPDATE — The governor has called a news conference on this subject. It’s overdue. I have had several letters from people victimized by the short time period. It needs a fix. The letters aren’t plainly marked. People have circumstances that delay responses. Responses are not easy to make. And so on. Compassion and common sense should prevail, but Sen. Bryan King’s patented meanness.
PS — From a long-time reader comes a letter describing his experience with the 10-day cutoff. Gov. Hutchisnon, tear down this crazy rule!
I read then in the Democrat today that almost 45,000 residents of Arkansas may lose their insurance because they, mostly, failed to respond to the income verification letter sent out by Access Arkansas. I was not at all shocked by the number of folks that did not respond to the verification letter, over 43,000 people and I want to tell you why. I first want to tell you that the Private option has been a godsend to both my wife, myself and our son, who has two pre-existing medical conditions that kept him from getting any kind of meaningful or even affordable health insurance, until now. I want to relate to you our experience with the process of the income verification because it was not pretty.
First of all, the envelopes containing the notice of income verification were plain and nondescript with no indication that they contained a very important document with a time limit for response. The return address was the Access Arkansas Processing Center in Batesville (rather than the Arkansas Department of Human Services which would have gotten my attention) and that did not make any impression on me whatsoever since I have worked only with Ambetter of Arkansas since we got our insurance. I was only on the Access Arkansas web site one time to get to and complete the application for the Affordable Care Act two years ago and have not been on that site since. The envelopes looked like junk mail and I honestly thought they were a solicitation from some television cable outfit. All the envelopes went into our junk mail recycling box without being opened, because we do not bother opening junk mail.
It was only when I saw an article online about the income verification letters sent out by the Department of Human Services via Access Arkansas that I realized what those envelopes were. Luckily I had not taken them to be recycled yet so I was able to retrieve them. It was, however, past the 10 day response time when I realized all of this so I attempted to contact the ADHS via the phone number they listed at the bottom of the form for help with questions, 855-506-2266. When I called that number it would only let me dial an extension number to leave a message. There was no extension number on the form. It did let me call up the agency directory but required that I use the phone keypad to type in the name of the party I was wanting to contact. Again, no name on the form. I decided to type in Jones and see what happened and that at least sent me to a message to dial 0 for the operator for help (there was no Jones in the directory). I dialed 0 but the operator never, ever, never answered not matter how long I let it ring. I called back numerous times to attempt to get an operator, but no one ever answered, ever.
So, the next step was back to the employee directory. I typed in Smith and this time an extension for an employee named Ricky Smith came up and I attempted to call him. Lo and behold he answered and he was very helpful in figuring out what I needed to do, though he said that this was not an area in which he was working. He checked the status of all three of us and told me what documents were needed and, since we were past he deadline, they needed to be faxed to them (no e:mail submission was possible). My wife and I still had three days grace period (apparently there was a 30 day grace period for the letters but this was not made clear at all on the form) to get the documents to them and our son had a week. My wife and I were no problem but our son was another matter. He had a summer job at the Philmont Scout Ranch high adventure base in northern New Mexico, his sole source of income for the year since he is a full time student, and his place of work is in what is known as the “back country” where they spend up to two weeks at a time with little or no cell coverage and no internet access. Our son works in a “Living History” camp portraying the Mountain Man era of the 1830s in the Rocky Mountains and they live the part and the era. So, even if they had internet access they would not use it. He would need to supply pay stubs for his current job (I told Mr. Smith that I had pay stubs and a W-2 from 2014 and would that work since it was the same place of employment, but he said that it had to be current pay stubs). This gets to the point about the timing of this letter and the possible complications such a short response time can entail. Our son is the perfect example of that problem. The only saving grace of this whole situation was, by mere chance, our son was down in the Philmont base camp on a set of days off where he had internet access. Luckily we were able to get a hold of him and explain the situation and he was able to access his payroll account and e:mail me a couple of his current pay stubs. If he had not been on his days off it would have been almost two weeks before he would be able to get those pay stubs to us, which would have then been after the grace period had expired.
So, luckily I have a fax machine I keep around the house and I managed to fax all of our information, including our son’s, to the number I was given by Mr. Smith. I then attempted to contact Mr. Smith again so I could be assured that our information was received. Over a two day period I attempted to call Mr. Smith but only got messages that his mailbox was full and I could not leave a message. So, how to verify that our information was received? I went back to the agency directory and typed in Jones and, of course it said that there was no Jones but would I like to contact the next name in the directory and I said yes. I was put in contact with another employee whose name began with a J ( I cannot remember her name at the moment but could find it out if I wanted to by doing this again, but I really do not want to) and I left a message with her explaining what our situation was, who I had talked to, what we had done and was there any way to verify that our information had been received. I crossed my fingers and waited. Two days later I got a very nice call from this lady explaining that she did not work on this program and that the number listed on the form to call was incorrect and was a typo . I needed to call the number that was listed at the end of the Spanish language sentence on the form instead, 855-372-1084. There was no English translation of that Spanish sentence on the form and I am afraid that I do not speak or read Spanish, as much as I would like to. I honest to God just about lost it.
However, I managed to keep my calm and thanked this lady for all of her information and help. I then called 855-372-1084 and got a number of options to call, none of them listing my area of concern, and another option to dial 0 for the operator. I held my breath and punched 0 and this time got a message that the next available staff would help me and to remain on hold, which I did for almost 20 minutes until I got frustrated and hung up so I could try another option on the menu. When I called back I dialed Option 1 which was to apply for coverage and an option to ask questions which I pushed which then put me back on hold with – The Operator. This time I just stayed on until the operator picked up, somewhere around 25 to 30 minutes after listening to messages about how important this call was to them along with overly loud elevator music. Finally got the operator and told her I was needing to talk to someone about the income verification information I had sent in and she put me on hold again. Another lady came on the phone and asked if she could help me. I told her what had happened and what I had done and she said “Just a ………… “ and the line went silent. I have had this happen before and it usually means that I have been disconnected, especially since there was no message or music to indicate that I had been put on hold. I really did not want to hang up and start this bloody process over again and waited for the busy signal to come on to indicate that I had lost the connection. After about three or four minutes she finally came back on the line asked me how I had gotten a hold of her because that was not an area she worked in. She suggested that I recall the main number and push Option 1 for help, but there was no way in hell I was doing that. I told her that was what I had done and it had sent me back to the operator who then connected me with her and there was no way I was going through that again. I again asked her if she could help me since I had her on the line and she did, putting me back on hold a couple of times while she tracked information down that I needed. She came back on and said that she had viewed all three of our files which were Pending Verification and in a grace period and that I could mail the information with the form or fax it to them. I told her that I had already faxed it and gave her the number I had faxed it to. She said that that was the correct number and that everything would be taken care of. I asked her if I could get verification that the information had been properly received and she said that there, more than likely, would be no notification or verification of information reception because of the volume of documents they were receiving. I told her that I had sent everything twice just to be sure and she said then that would probably be OK. I thanked her for her help and got off the line.
This was a bloody nightmare. I do bear some responsibility in this for not recognizing the letter for what it was when I got it. But, again, it looked like junk mail and if they had put the return address of the ADHS on it instead of Access Arkansas Processing Center, that would have caught my attention.
I am used to contacting government agencies and corporations so I have the patience of Job when it comes to dealing with them. I also have a land line on which I can remain on hold for hours if need be. I can only imagine how difficult or impossible this would be for someone who did not have my experience, time or determination to see this through over a period of hours on the phone and days of waiting.
After a couple of weeks of hearing nothing form ADHS I gritted my teeth and contacted the number on the ADHS form I was earlier told was the correct number (included in the Spanish language sentence) and went through the same teeth-grinding wait and series of connections until I got to a staff person who, again, asked how I had gotten a hold of them because they did not work on this issue. I managed to keep my calm and asked them to please check to see if all of our information had gotten processed. He did do this and said that there was nothing recorded on any of our forms that they had received the income information. I, again, just about lost it. I asked how this could be since I had faxed the information, twice, to the appropriate number. He said that there just might be delays in the processing. I asked if there was any other way or anyone else I could talk to in order to see if anything had been received. He suggested that I call my local ADHS office and see if they had anything. I thanked him and gave my local Washington County AHDS office a call and actually got someone who knew what was going on. She quickly looked up our forms and told me that me and my son had our information recorded but that my wife did not. I asked why ours was recorded and hers not since I had faxed everything at the same time. She said that she did not know. I asked if I could mail my wife’s information direct to the local office instead of taking a chance of it disappearing if I mailed it to the Access Arkansas address and she said that would be just fine. I did that right away.
So, after relating to you our experience, in my mind it is no wonder that so many people have not responded to this form. It would be unfair and unethical, in my opinion, to not give these folks more time, possibly the 90 days required by federal law. As a side point, we did receive a notice from Ambetter that this income verification information needed to be communicated to ADHS so we could keep our insurance and the mailing actually contained the correct address to send it to and the correct phone number to call for our county DHS. I do not know if any other company has done this but I believe that a similar notice should be sent to all of those who have not yet responded the Access Arkansas mailing. In my humble opinion.