Governor Asa Hutchinson announced during a weekly briefing that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has approved a five-year Section 1115 Demonstration Project called, “Arkansas Health and Opportunity for Me, ” or ARHOME.
The approval of ARHOME will allow the state to continue to provide more than 300,000 low-income Arkansans with health coverage. The new waiver will also allow the state to use Medicaid funds to purchase coverage through qualified health plans, according to the announcement by Governor Hutchinson during his weekly briefing Tuesday.
“I want to thank Senator Irvin and Representative Gray for their sponsorship of the legislation that provides the authorization to pursue this waiver,” Hutchinson said. “This comes at the right time so that 300,000 Arkansans can be confident of continued health care coverages as we go into the new year.”
The approval will also allow Arkansas to continue working with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on the Life360 HOMEs that will provide extra aid to pregnant women, people with mental illnesses and for young people at risk for long-term poverty.
In the briefing, Hutchinson noted that the administration did not approve the state’s request to continue to require individuals with income above 100 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) to pay a share of premiums for their coverage. Therefore, the current $13 per month premium will not continue beyond the end of calendar year 2022.
Individuals currently enrolled with a qualified health plan will continue to be covered as the new year begins. DHS and AID have been working with the carriers for a smooth transition to ARHOME.
The first case of the Omicron variant was confirmed in Arkansas last week. The CDC recently announced that the Omicron variant accounts for 73 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the nation, and in the Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico region, the Omicron variant accounts for 92 percent of new COVID-19 cases.
“I spoke with the CDC and the White House as to the accuracy of this report,” Governor Hutchinson said. “The 92 percent is for the region and not particularly directed to Arkansas. It is a projection of the region based on the latest surveillance of data, regardless, if the current estimate is precise it is clear that Omicron is in our state, it is spreading rapidly, and it will define our prevention efforts for the coming months.”
Hutchinson said that this projection gives the state an opportunity to act before Omicron peaks in Arkansas, and noted that vaccines are proven to be effective against Omicron, as well as prevent cases from becoming serious.
In Arkansas, 51 percent of residents have been fully vaccinated. The Governor noted, however, that only 14 percent of Arkansans have received the booster dose, and encouraged more Arkansans to take the booster.
The Governor also provided an update on the Dec. 10 tornado damage estimates. Hutchinson confirmed damage estimates were completed this week and were submitted to FEMA and President Joe Biden, and noted that the President said the estimates will be properly reviewed.
“I am comfortable to say that I believe we have met the federal threshold for a disaster declaration, we have submitted information on over 375 homes that were damaged or destroyed,” Hutchinson said. “If we can qualify for federal assistance that will mean individual assistance that will help the homeowners.”
Last week, Hutchinson signed an executive order which created the Arkansas Energy Resources Council, which will meet at least once a year and is composed of state agency personnel and stakeholder representatives. The Council will facilitate discussion among regulators and energy stakeholders and will develop educational materials on best practices regarding preparedness and communication for events that may disrupt the supply of critical energy resources.