The legislature completed a three-day special session after approving the governor’s proposal to limit eligibility in the Arkansas Works health coverage program.
The state must gain approval for the plan from federal officials. It would reduce income limits for eligibility in Arkansas Works, which now provides health coverage to about 320,000 Arkansas residents whose incomes are beneath 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
The governor said that he was confident that federal officials would approve the lower income threshold, which would reduce eligibility to people with incomes less than 100 percent of the poverty level.
That would remove about 60,000 Arkansans from Arkansas Works. They could still qualify for help in paying for their health insurance through the federal exchange set up under the national Affordable Care Act.
Another new provision would set up a work requirement for recipients of Arkansas Works, similar to those now required of people who get food stamps and welfare. To qualify for benefits, able bodied recipients would have to get a job or enroll in job training.
Recipients pay 2 percent of the cost of premiums provided by Arkansas Works, which can be up to $19 a month. This payment is an incentive for recipients to accept more responsibility for their lifestyle choices and health care decisions.
For a family of four, 138 percent of the federal poverty level means their total income is $33,948 a year. For the same family of four, 100 percent of the poverty level is $24,600 a year.
The legislation also directs the state Human Services Department to apply to federal officials to designate Arkansas as an “assessment” state.
The designation means that state officials, rather than federal officials, would determine people’s eligibility for Medicaid services.
Also during the special session the legislature transferred about $105 million from a trust fund to a reserve account with the intent of improving the state’s credit rating. Money in the trust fund came from a legal settlement with tobacco companies and is spent on health-related programs.
Putting the money in the reserve fund shores up the state’s financial status because it could be spent for an emergency or to continue state government operations in case of a severe economic downturn. The governor and state budget officials told lawmakers that they have no intention of spending the money.
The legislature also enacted a bill to incorporate 23 medical marijuana bills into the state Constitution in a coherent and legally cohesive method. During the 2017 regular session the legislature considered dozens of bills to implement the medical marijuana amendment to the state Constitution that was passed by voters last November.
The bills regulate the cultivation facilities and retail stores that will sell medical marijuana. They imposed a tax to generate revenue to pay for the enforcement of regulations and security measures required by the medical marijuana amendment. They prohibit marketing to children and they set applications fees for people who want to grow or sell it.
After a review of the 23 new acts governing medical marijuana, state attorneys determined that some formatting changes were necessary so that language in one bill doesn’t overlap or repeat language in a separate bill.