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Arkansas Department of Human Services prepares for end of public health emergency

The national public health emergency has been in place since Jan. 27, 2020. Now, with it set to potentially end soon, officials in Arkansas are preparing.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Over the past year, the Arkansas Department of Human Services has been preparing for the national public health emergency for COVID to end.

That will bring on the largest and most complex effort that state Medicaid programs have ever undertaken.

The public health emergency has been in place since January 27, 2020.

Secretary of Arkansas DHS, Mark White, said they're expecting to hear more on when it could end which could be as early as next week. 

As a result, they have been outlining their plan for what's next.

During the public health emergency, Arkansans receiving Medicaid benefits were granted some protections.

"As a part of the public health emergency and that federal declaration, [it] meant that individuals who might otherwise not have been eligible for Medicaid are able to continue to stay covered," Dawn Stehle, with Arkansas DHS, said.

With the likelihood of that ending soon, White explained that so are those exceptions.

"At that point, we will have to remove all of those ineligible clients from the Medicaid rolls," White added.

In March 2020, former president Donald Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act into law. 

This enabled states, like Arkansas, to receive federal funding for the Medicaid program.

In order to keep the funding, states were required to provide continuous eligibility. 

Stehle explained that there have been some exemptions.

"If we receive notice that someone has moved out of state, or we can verify if they are now enrolled with another state's Medicaid program and if someone dies, that is one of the other reasons," Stehle said.

White said the federal government will be notifying states soon on whether or not the public health emergency is over.

"The federal government has promised to give us at least 60 days notice before they allow the [program] to expire," White said. 

The department has continued to process applications, changes, and renewals for Medicaid coverage.

"Throughout the course of the public health emergency, we have extended over 500,000 Arkansans," Stehle said.

It's important to note once the public health emergency expires, people with extended Medicaid won't necessarily lose coverage.

The department said those recipients may still be eligible but DHS will have to redetermine their eligibility

DHS can begin removing ineligible clients from the Medicaid program once the federal government ends the public health emergency which is scheduled to end in January 2023.

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