ARChoices: Take Action

This is a long but important update from Kevin deLiban of Legal Aid of Arkansas on information about the NEW SYSTEM to determine hours for ARChoices that DHS will start using on January 1, 2019.

The public comment period is open until 11/7/18, and public meetings will be held from now until then.


(1) RUGs Update. Late Monday, the judge dissolved the injunction against RUGs, meaning that DHS will start allocating attendant care to new applicants for the program and will also re-assess people whose plans of care have expired. RUGs will only go back into effect for the next two-and-a-half months and then will be replaced by the new system described below. If anyone faces reductions because of RUGs during that time, they can call Legal Aid of Arkansas at 800-967-9224. We don’t anticipate more court challenges against RUGs (though that can always change), but we may be able to help with administrative appeal hearings.

Due to the hard work of people on the program, caregivers, attorneys (at Legal Aid of Arkansas, the Center for Arkansas Legal Services, and Disability Rights Arkansas), case managers, care agencies, journalists, and others, RUGs is definitely going away (DHS had no plans to switch to a new system before the litigation and public attention), about a thousand people avoided devastating RUGs-based cuts for several months (and at least couple dozen people kept their pre-RUGs hours for a year or longer), 150+ people with cerebral palsy are getting more hours than they otherwise would have due to discovery of a DHS software error, hundreds of people (including legislators and the wider public) have learned more about Medicaid home-care services and the importance of a fair system to determine hours, and a community of people are now activated around these issues. Justice only exists because people work to create it. Grateful for all of you who did so here. We lost along the way, too, and I think about the clients who passed away fearing or fighting cuts, clients who’ve been living with the cuts, and all the suffering we couldn’t stop. They keep me motivated.

(2) The New System. DHS finally released details of the new system it plans to use starting January 1, 2019. DHS’s own summary of the changes are attached. There is A LOT of information in here, so I’ll go through the major items.

New Assessment. Up to now, DHS was using the assessment tool known as ArPath, which had 286 questions. ArPath will be going away. The new assessment will be called ARIA and could have as many as 400 questions. It will be performed by a Registered Nurse who works for a private company named Optum. After the Optum RN comes out to do the assessment, the results will be sent to DHS for a determination about eligibility, the amount of hours someone gets, and what budget category someone fits in. This involves a separate visit by a DHS RN to do the care plan.

Questions/Unknowns:

~ Will people be given enough advance warning in order to get medical records or arrange for caregivers to be present so that the information in the assessment is accurate?

~ Will the new assessment take longer than the old assessment, which already took 60 to 120 minutes? Will the questions be understandable, relevant, and fair?

New Hour Determination System. RUGs used an algorithm that mixed a lot of different factors that didn’t seem to make obvious sense in order to place someone in a group with a fixed number of hours. The new system will be very different. It is called the “Task and Hour Standards.” Based on the ARIA assessment, an algorithm will rank each person from 0 to 3 in each key Activity of Daily Living (bathing, dressing, feeding, grooming, toileting, transferring, walking, cleaning, laundry, meal preparations, and shopping). Then, based on whether you get a 0, 1, 2, or 3, the DHS nurse (who comes in a separate visit from the Optum nurse) will determine how many minutes you get for that particular activity. For example, if you score a 3 on bathing, the DHS nurse can give you between 35 and 45 minutes. If you score a 2, the DHS nurse can give you between 15 and 30 minutes. If you score a 1, the DHS nurse can give you between 5 and 10 minutes. The DHS nurse will then figure out how many times per week you need to do a particular task. The DHS nurse will then add up all the minutes you get for each ADL and give you a monthly number of hours.

Questions/Unknowns:

~ DHS hasn’t said how the algorithm will figure out if you are a 1 or 2 or 3 for any particular ADL.

~ DHS hasn’t stated the frequency that certain tasks will be allowed. Is bathing a daily task? Do people get to be dressed twice per day (once into the day’s clothes; once into bedtime clothes)? Will the frequencies allowed match actual care needs?

~ DHS has said that the time given will be reduced by the amount of time that family, friends, or others do that same task voluntarily. It is not known how this will affect people with family caregivers.

~ DHS has said that no time will be given for the cleaning of shared spaces when the caregiver lives with the beneficiary. There could be other reductions for people who live with their caregiver.

~ DHS has said that nurses can request to go outside the amount of time allowed if there are “extenuating circumstances” and the nurse receives supervisor approval. For example, this means someone may be able to get 55 minutes for bathing even though the highest amount officially available is 45 minutes. BUT, these adjustments might not mean much because of the budget limits described below.

~ Even if you are allowed a particular amount of hours under the Task and Hour Standards, you might not actually get that number of hours because of the new overall budget limits described below.

• New Overall Budget Limits. DHS is doing something it has not done before in ARChoices, AAPD, or Elder Choices. It is setting a hard budget cap for services an individual on the program can receive, regardless of the amount of care DHS’s own Task and Hours Standards says someone needs. There are three budget categories–Intensive, Intermediate, and Preventative. An algorithm will use the answers to the assessment to put you into one these three groups. People in the Intensive group can get no more than $30,000 worth of services in a year ($2,500 in a month). People in the Intermediate group can get no more than $20,000 worth of services in a year ($1,667 per month). People in the Preventive group get $5,000 in a year ($417 per month).

So, even if the Task and Hours Standards states that you need 200 hours in a month, you cannot get those 200 hours if they cost more than is allowed by your budget limit. For example, your budget limit might only allow you to “buy” 150 hours per month (or some other number less than 200).

Questions/Unknowns:

~ DHS has not stated the actual price of the services so that you can predict the number of hours actually possible under the budget limits. However, if you take the standard attendant care rate of $18 per hour, the highest budget level (Intensive, which allows $2,500 per month), would only allow 139 hours per month. This would not be enough for many people. The next highest budget limit (Intermediate, $1,667 per month) would only allow 93 hours per month (at the rate of $18 per hour for attendant care).

~ DHS has stated to media that the cost of attendant care would be less for people who hire their own caregivers instead of using an agency (meaning they could possibly get more hours under the budget limit), but that would seem to give far fewer hours to people who use agencies than people who hire their own caregivers.

~ DHS has stated to media that up to 64 hours of personal care hours may be available apart from this, but that is not confirmed in policy and may still not be enough care for many people who have higher needs.

~ DHS’s process to arrive at these $30,000/$20,000/$5,000 categories has not been independently verified to be reliable. These amounts could be arbitrary. DHS says they are based on the cost of nursing home care, but DHS has given other figures that state nursing home care costs much more than $30,000 per year (these other DHS estimates have put the cost of nursing homes at more like $60,000 per year).

~ DHS did not include in the public documents anything about how the budget limits will actually affect people. How many people will be put into each category? How many people will face cuts because of placement in a particular category?

~ DHS has stated that ARChoices beneficiaries who were on the program in 2018 and who received more than $30,000 in services will not face a cut due to the budget limits the first year. Instead, their budget limit will be the cost of the services they received in 2018. This is known as “grandfathering” people into the program. So, people with higher needs may be able to keep what they got in 2018 if the Task and Hour Standards determination shows they need that many hours.

~ Apart from the “grandfathering,” DHS has stated that the budget limit can be temporarily adjusted upward for one year through an “exceptions process” for “exceptional, unexpected circumstances.” DHS stated that these “exceptional, unexpected circumstances” might include the death of a caregiver or recent release from a facility.

• Will the new system provide enough care? Compared to the system of nurse discretion, RUGs was harmful to our clients because it meant huge cuts in hours for so many people, especially people with the most severe needs. It is not clear if the new system will give people any more hours than RUGs did. It is not clear if the new system will give people enough hours to meet their actual care needs and keep individuals out of nursing homes. DHS has stated that the changes will cut Medicaid spending by about $10 million the first year and about $14 million the second year. If spending cuts are the goal, increased care may not be part of the plan.

• Is it understandable? RUGs involved 20 pages of computer code that didn’t make sense to our clients. The new system seems to be complicated in a different way. First, people will have to figure out how the 400-question assessment turns into a score for each ADL on the Task and Hour Standard (how many minutes you get for each ADL). And, we don’t know if that will make sense. Second, people will have to figure out how the assessment turns into a Budget Limit category. Some people may be qualified for hours under the Task and Hour Standard that they can’t actually get because of the Budget Limit category. These complications may mean that people on the program may not be able to fairly contest decisions about the care they are allotted.

(3) Public Comment. Anyone can participate in the public comment process. Comments can be sent by email to becky.murphy@dhs.arkansas.gov or by mail to Office of Policy Coordination and Promulgation, P.O. Box 1437, Slot S295, Little Rock, Arkansas 72203-1437. Comments must be submitted by 4:30 p.m. on November 7.

(4) Public Meetings. Public comment will also be accepted at public meetings. The meetings are at the following times and places. Some of these meeting places are different from the meetings about ARChoices that were held in summer.

Fort Smith, 10/15, 5 p.m., Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine, 7000 Chad Colley Blvd
Monticello, 10/18, 5 p.m., Drew Memorial Hospital Conf. A., 778 Scoggin Dr.
Hope, 10/22, 5 p.m., UA Hope Hempstead Hall, 2500 South Main St.
Little Rock, 10/29, 5 p.m., Arkansas Enterprises for the Developmentally Disabled, 105 E Roosevelt Rd
Jonesboro, 11/7, 5 p.m., St. Bernard’s Medical Center Auditorium, 225 E. Jackson Ave.

(5) Copy of the Full Materials. I could not cover all the changes being made. The full materials can be downloaded here. The full materials have information on other important changes being made to this program, Independent Choices, and the Assisted Living waiver program. For example, the rates of Assisted Living providers are facing significant cuts, which may mean that fewer people can get into an assisted living facility and more people may have to choose a nursing home instead.


This update was provided by Kevin De Liban of Legal Aid. If you have questions, please feel free to reach out to him:

Kevin De Liban, Attorney
Economic Justice Practice Group Leader
Legal Aid of Arkansas–West Memphis
310 Mid-Continent Plaza, Suite 420
West Memphis, AR 72301
Phone: (870) 732-6370 x. 2206

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