A glitch in the Arkansas Works computer system for contact information updates is being fixed, but whether the issue affected a widespread group of people is in question.

The Arkansas Works section of Access.Arkansas.gov is receiving criticism because it is said to require the latest web browser. The website is where people go by the fifth day of the month to report their work or volunteer hours to retain coverage in the state's Arkansas Works program that expands Medicaid to certain people who qualify.

Following a recent Times Record guest column by Brandon Chase Goldsmith of Fort Smith, District 77 state Rep. Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith, contacted his constituent to work through some of the problems. They met Monday at a local coffee shop and Boyd made some calls.

“The goal is to have a product that works for Arkansans,” Boyd said Friday, confirming he met with Goldsmith to identify specific issues and make calls to his contacts. “DHS (Department of Human Services) was responsive to the concerns and seems to be committed to developing a website that meets the needs of Arkansans.”

Goldsmith, an adjunct communications professor at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, said he and Boyd were on the phone for about 90 minutes to solve the email address update issue. They first spoke with someone at the Department of Human Services, and then with an independent contractor.

Goldsmith’s issue was not being able to update his contact information: email, phone and regular mailing address.

"When I called to have them fix my mailing address they messed up my email," Goldsmith wrote in an email Friday. "That error has existed since the start of the Arkansas Works website. From my experience going all the way back to the summer when I couldn't update my mailing address."

Because of this error, people are not receiving their noncompliance or other important notifications, Goldsmith explained. The website contractor fixed the contact information update problem as they were on the phone Monday.

"DHS was alerted to a system issue that prevented some people in some instances who had an online account from being able to update their email address through the portal," Marci Manley, deputy chief of communications for DHS, wrote in an email Friday. "Our team is currently working to address that issue, and we’ve expedited it as a priority after becoming aware of it earlier this week. We are regression testing the fix for email addresses today and will deploy it on Monday. In the meantime, we are available on the DHS Helpline for anyone who is experiencing a problem and can work with them to update their information as needed."

Goldsmith also showed Boyd the browser issue, but DHS could not fix that at the time. It's an "ongoing problem," Goldsmith wrote. It is uncertain how many Arkansans were kicked out of the Arkansas Works insurance program because of a glitch like the email address update.

Goldsmith contends the Arkansas Works section was coded to deny access to people because it requires the most up-to-date web browser edition.

“The login system works really well … but what they’re expecting in this system is the people to have the most updated versions of browsers in order to use it,” Goldsmith explains. “This is not accessibility. This is actually denying people with older operating systems the ability to even get on to the Arkansas Works page. This is a problem in the architecture of the program. When you design a website one of the first things you talk to your programmeer about is how much accessibility you want to give to your customers. This is something that was planned and needs to be fixed.”

Arkansas Works provides health-care coverage to Arkansans who are U.S. citizens and certain legally residing immigrants ages 19-64 with household incomes below 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level for their family size.

Manley noted that a person coverage ends when they do not report required activities or exemptions for the work and community engagement requirement for any three months in the calendar year. A person can report activities online at access.arkansas.gov; by calling the DHS Helpline at 1-855-372-1084; calling their insurance carrier; and they can get in-person help by visiting the local county office that has computers and staff available to walk through the process with enrollees if they let staff know they need assistance.

Individuals do need an email address to create an online account that uses a username and password to access the Arkansas Works reporting portal. DHS encourages people to keep all their contact information updated, Manley added.

Contact information and other issues can be addressed by calling the DHS Helpline and by mailing the information, faxing the information or visiting their local DHS office in addition to using the portal.

Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care (AFMC) helps operate the Arkansas Works DHS Helpline, and conducts outreach calls for the requirement, as well as handles inbound calls for Arkansas Works enrollees who have questions or are experiencing issues.

AFMC has updated or entered more than 7,000 email addresses specifically for Arkansas Works enrollees in addition to phone numbers and addresses since May, Manley wrote. Across all Medicaid categories, AFMC has confirmed more than 87,000 emails; entered 58,000 new emails; and updated 5,897 emails.

DHS supports several browsers and at least one previous version of the browser, Manley added. The technical support option at the DHS Helpline can help people walk through updating their browsers. The Helpline staff can also help them report their activities — if the enrollee wants — over the phone. 

"If a person experiences a system issue that prevented him or her from being able to report activities, he or she can request a Good Cause Exemption, which are considered on a case-by-case basis," Manley wrote. "Someone can request a Good Cause Exemption by sending an email to AWGoodCauseRequest@dhs.arkansas.gov. They can also make that request by calling or visiting their local DHS office."