Governor Hutchinson Announces Proposal to protect and support health care professionals, public, and providers

LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) is submitting a Medicaid Section 1115 Demonstration Project (“waiver”) to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to provide support to Arkansans in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced at a news conference today. 

The waiver will provide $116 million in additional Medicaid funding to support a number of initiatives to protect Arkansas health care workers and their patients and to support health care providers. Additional funding is aimed at helping the Long-term Services and Supports (LTSS) sector to ensure Arkansas’s vulnerable populations continue to receive care whether they reside in facilities or in their homes. The initiatives also provide additional support to rural hospitals, independent physician practices, and other Medicaid providers struggling as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency. 

This new waiver is just one piece of federal and state efforts to help our hospitals, nursing homes, and physicians. Regulatory relief and additional payments to providers will also be provided through federal legislation.

To accomplish the specific goals of this waiver, the state is requesting approval for federal funding to support the care continuity initiatives which include:

  • Environmental modifications payments to eligible hospitals, independent physicians, rural health clinics, and behavioral health agencies to modify their facilities to add protective features such as drive-through testing or to reconfigure patient intake areas to allow for adequate social distancing or the purchase or lease of specialized equipment.
  • New flexibility and financial support to allow health care providers to adjust operations that are unique to their clinic so that they can continue to safely provide face-to-face services. This may include extending clinic hours or shifting schedules to accommodate sick visits versus healthy visits.
  • Payments to expand and upgrade telemedicine and to provide non-emergency transportation so that patients may continue to connect with health care providers.
  • Additional pay for health care workers who provide direct long-term services and supports (LTSS) in institutions as well as in homes.  This would be an additional $250 per week for non-physician direct-care workers and $500 per week for non-physician direct-care workers who are employed in a facility that treats COVID-19 patients.
  • Additional payments to nursing facilities that treat a disproportionate share of COVID-19 patients.

With this additional funding, providers will have the flexibility to continue efficiently responding to the needs of Arkansans in ways that Medicaid does not typically finance. This method of structuring payments also ensures program integrity, as DHS must approve the request for funding in advance. 

To help prevent negative impacts to the physical and mental health of a Medicaid-eligible child in foster care, DHS would also provide an additional monthly payment of $500 to all foster families during the emergency period. 

“Health care today cannot be delivered as it was just two weeks ago,” Governor Hutchinson said at the news conference. “Hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, residential facilities, other licensed practitioners must now re-engineer their practice patterns to protect the lives of their patients and their employees. This proposal places a particular emphasis on Arkansas’s rural providers who face even greater challenges due to distance and less infrastructure compared to more populous areas.”

Cindy Gillespie, Secretary of DHS, joined the Governor at the news conference. 

“This is designed to address COVID-19 related expenses that are hitting small hospitals, independent physicians, community providers,” Gillespie said. “These are things that Medicaid normally can’t pay for, and will help ensure continuity of care at a very critical time for Arkansans.”

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