Governor Announces ARHOME Timeline, Creates Cyber Advisory Council

A waiver for the state’s new Medicaid expansion program will be submitted for approval in July.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks at a podium
Gov. Asa Hutchinson provides an update on ARHOME during a press conference June 15, 2021.

If all goes according to plan, ARHOME, the new version of the state’s Medicaid expansion program, will begin Jan. 1, 2022. ARHOME, which stands for Arkansas Health and Opportunity for Me, aims to improve the health and economic independence of Arkansans, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during his weekly press briefing yesterday. 

“The new approach that we have sends the message that we are serious about the healthcare of Arkansans,” Hutchinson said. “We are serious about improving their health.”

ARHOME is the latest rendition of the state’s Medicaid expansion program which was previously known as the private option and then Arkansas Works. More than 300,000 people receive services under the state’s current program, which is set to expire at the end of 2021. 

Earlier this year, the Arkansas General Assembly approved ARHOME, which officials said will “provide targeted interventions to address social determinants of health that keep people from becoming healthy and economically independent.” 

Rural hospitals will play an important role in achieving success in this effort, Hutchinson said. In addition to paying rural hospitals to recruit and train coaches to engage ARHOME members one-on-one, the program will also help pay the cost of crisis mental health services by operating acute crisis units. These will be supplemental to the state’s four crisis stabilization units and will allow services to be provided in more rural communities.

Officials will work with legislators throughout the life of the waiver to set specific outcomes for health improvement in Arkansans. This will be done through incentives for members to increase their employment, education and training. The previously announced Ready for Life web-based tool will help low-income Arkansans find worker training opportunities, assistance and ultimately a job, Hutchinson said. 

“The goal is to move out of poverty and into independence and better health,” he said. 

The public comment period for ARHOME began June 13 and Cindy Gillespie, Secretary of the Department of Human Services, said people seem comfortable with the direction of the program. 

“Genuinely people are excited that we’re really focused on driving health improvement and that we’re focusing in on the health of children and babies, so we’re not hearing anything negative so far,” Gillespie said.

Public hearings are scheduled for noon June 21 and 4 p.m. June 22, and the state public comment period closes July 12. Gov. Hutchinson expects to submit the waiver to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for review July 14. Hutchinson plans to meet with the Biden administration after that to advocate for the requested waiver.

If the state receives approval by November or December, Hutchinson anticipates finalizing the program and receiving legislative approval in time to open ARHOME to Arkansans Jan. 1, 2022. 

“The current waiver ends Dec. 31 so this has to be approved in some form in order for the expanded health care that we have in Arkansas to be available,” Hutchinson said. 

The governor said he expects the waiver to be approved but if portions of it are not, there is some flexibility to make adjustments without the legislature. If the entire program is rejected, lawmakers will be involved in developing a new plan.

During yesterday’s weekly press briefing, Gov. Hutchinson also announced he was signing an executive order to create the Arkansas Cyber Security Council. The importance of cybersecurity has been highlighted by recent ransomware attacks against Colonial Pipeline and JBS Foods.

“With the American Rescue Plan money that we have available that specifically includes an investment in cybersecurity, this advisory council will be making recommendations in regards to the investments that we need as a state to protect our systems, to protect our information,” Hutchinson said. 

Jonathan Askins, director of the Division of Information Systems and Chief Technology Officer, is leading the 12-member committee.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.