Randy Dollar was in the hospital waiting for open heart surgery when he found out his Private Option health insurance had been cancelled.

“I knew I should have coverage, and the hospital had already verified that I qualified,” Dollar said. “When they told me it was gone, I nearly packed my bags and went home to die.”

The hospital performed the procedure but Dollar had a hard time getting prescriptions filled and couldn’t see his doctor for follow up care.

“I was supposed to be resting and recovering, but instead I was stressing out about how to pay for my medication,” he said. “I ended up in the emergency room after my heart nearly failed again.”

Dollar’s coverage was cancelled because he failed to respond to a letter asking for income verification. It’s a letter he doesn’t remember receiving, even though he was carefully watching the mail for anything related to his upcoming surgery.

The Arkansas Citizens First Congress, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and the Arkansas Interfaith Alliance held a joint press conference in September to ask Governor Hutchinson to reinstate coverage for everyone who has been terminated from Medicaid, unless there is proof they are no longer eligible. This decision would make the renewal process more effective and fair for Arkansas families.

In August, the income verification deadline was extended to 30 days, but this did not help tens of thousands of people who already lost coverage. They are without access to health care while they wait for DHS to consider reinstatement. This process can take weeks, or even months.

“We are hearing stories from people across Arkansas who have cancer, heart disease and other life-threatening conditions that suddenly can not see their doctor, get their prescriptions or have needed procedures because their coverage was unfairly cancelled,” said Mark Robertson, Co-Chair of the CFC.

“Federal regulators say the 10 day process was unfair and we are glad the state is extending it to 30 days for future cases, but something needs to be done now to make it right for the more than 50,000 people who lost coverage under the old and unfair rules.”

Lindsey Reed of Little Rock, a life-long teacher, said she lost her job and her health insurance last year when she suffered a brain injury. Unable to work, she relied on Medicaid, and her daughter qualified for ARKids First childrens’ health insurance. Reed and her daughter were also terminated from the coverage even though she does not remember seeing a letter from DHS requesting information.

“These families who’ve lost coverage should be reinstated now, without a moment more of delay, while their cases are reviewed,” Robertson said. “Of course people who are no longer eligible should be removed and informed about other options, but the evidence shows a great many people who’ve been terminated so far actually do qualify. We should make sure we treat them fairly while we create a better system for determining whose status has changed so much they no longer need assistance.”

Rich Huddleston, Executive Director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, added that other reforms are needed as well.

“The state needs to dramatically improve their outreach to consumers,” Huddleston said. “In many cases a single letter will not do the trick. They need to be sending out several reminders and possibly making phone calls. These are our most vulnerable citizens and some who are frail or disabled may need additional help meeting the requirements.”

Steve Copley of the Arkansas Interfaith Alliance said Arkansas has a moral imperative to make sure the system is working before cutting people off from health care.

“Many of the people cut off did their best to comply, but the state mishandled their documents, or they simply didn’t have enough time to respond,” said Rev. Copley. “Others never even knew they were being asked for documentation because the outreach was so poor. If large numbers of people the state is contacting are failing to respond, that is a sign that the state’s strategy needs to be revised. These people deserve to be reinstated until their cases can be reviewed and the state can improve its processes.”

The state has made changes to be more fair, and target fewer people. Arkansas has reinstated more than 16,000 people, including Dollar, Reed and her daughter, but many more who probably qualify are still waiting. What should consumers do who’ve lost their coverage?

“The most important thing for people on Medicaid, ARKids First or the Private Option to do is send some form of income verification to DHS immediately,” Huddleston said. “If your coverage has been dropped it may take weeks or months for DHS to reinstate it, so get that documentation to DHS as soon as possible. But we should not be putting consumers in this position to begin with.”