Arkansas Healthcare

Welcome to another edition of KUAR's Week In Review podcast where the KUAR News team takes a look at the news from the week that was.

Cindy Gillespie
C-SPAN

The Department of Human Services has virtually erased a backlog of Medicaid eligibility cases that had reached 140,000 people earlier this year, Director Cindy Gillespie said in a letter sent to Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday (Jan. 11).

As of Dec. 30, there were 692 overdue cases. Some individuals’ applications dated back to 2014.

“Based on a review of the remaining cases, all individuals have coverage and the only work that remains is simply clean-up of case files,” wrote Gillespie, who began working in her position in March.

Scott Pace is the CEO of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association.
Karen E. Segrave / Arkansas Business

With President-elect Trump and a Republican Congress expected to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Arkansas hospital officials are watching the situation with a great deal of uncertainty.

Almost 11 percent of Arkansans – about 325-thousand people – now have coverage through an exchange set up through the state’s Medicaid expansion program.

Reporter Mark Friedman with Arkansas Business talked with several hospital officials for a story in this week’s issue. Friedman also spoke with KUAR's Michael Hibblen about what he heard. You can hear the full interview above.

Outside the Arkansas House chamber in the state Capitol building.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

A State of the State address from the governor and the first salvo of medical marijuana-related bills are expected Tuesday morning, day two of the 91st General Assembly.  Governor Asa Hutchinson is scheduled to address a joint session of the state House and Senate at 10:30 a.m.  Watch the speech here.

Arkansas Surgeon General Joe Thompson
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR News

In Arkansas lawmakers and health officials have been exploring the outer limits of Medicaid expansion for several years now, typically pushing for more restrictions on the insurance program for low-income residents made possible by the Affordable Care Act. And under a Donald J. Trump presidency, some conservatives are eager to push the parameters of coverage to require more from low-income beneficiaries. 

This morning NPR  took a look at Indiana's and Arkansas's alterations of Medicaid expansion.

CORRECTION: This story originally mistook a projection from the Arkansas Department of Health about when its rules and regulations will be finalized for when medical marijuana will actually be available to patients in the state. We regret the error. 

CORRECTION: Future medical marijuana users will not have to pass a law enforcement background check but caregivers who are legally empowered to purchase and handle the drug therapy on the patient's behalf will.

The Arkansas Department of Health late Monday afternoon released a draft of the physician's written certification necessary for an Arkansan with one of the qualifying 18 conditions to get medical marijuana once the state's dispensaries are licensed and running.

Health Care Task Force Chair, Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren (R-Gravette) during a break in the meeting.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

A group of Arkansas lawmakers who had been meeting for more than a year to find ways to revamp healthcare in the state, signed off Thursday on a plan to reduce Medicaid spending by an estimated $963 million* over five years.

The Medical Marijuana Commission meets today.
Senate Information Office

Arkansas's newly appointed medical marijuana commissioners are slated to hold their first meeting Monday at 2:00 p.m. The five-member commission was appointed last week to help facilitate the licensing and regulation of dispensaries and cultivation centers as outlined by the voter-approved Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment.

Arkansas Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe with Gov. Asa Hutchinson and other state health officials urging opposition to two medical marijuana ballot measures.
David Monteith / KUAR News

Arkansas took a few more steps toward implementing its voter-approved medical marijuana program this week and the constitutional amendment’s architect says he has faith that a conservative administration is so far faithfully carrying it out. Although, attorney David Couch does have some reservations about what the state legislature might do to the healthcare program during next year’s legislative session.

Governor Asa Hutchinson
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson says the Obama Administration has approved changes for Arkansas's Medicaid expansion program, though the waiver has stricter requirements than he wanted in providing assistance to employers who offer insurance for lower-income employees.

In a press conference Wednesday, Hutchinson said federal Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell called him Tuesday night, the day after they met in Washington, saying she would issue a letter Wednesday saying the waiver for the Arkansas Works program, previously known as the Private Option, would be granted.

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