Federal Panel Alarmed as Thousands Are Dropped From Medicaid in Arkansas

“I’m getting tired of out-of-state critics who sit 1,000 miles away and complain, without taking the time to understand all we’ve done to help people,” Mr. Hanley said. “It’s hard to help people whom you can’t find.”

Cindy Gillespie, the director of the Arkansas Department of Human Services, said the state had made extensive outreach and education efforts that included sending more than 59,000 letters, 77,000 emails and 6,100 text messages; making more than 150,000 phone calls; and “even going door to door talking with beneficiaries” subject to the work requirements.

But lawyers for Medicaid beneficiaries said that some were unaware of the reporting requirements or did not have access to the internet and were being dropped from the rolls even though they worked or could qualify for an exemption. Alan R. Weil, another federal Medicaid commission member, said the “rapid implementation of work requirements” has proved to be “a risky proposition.”

Ms. Thompson, the chairwoman of the commission, said the panel would seek more information about the situation in Arkansas. But, she said, “it’s my sense from the commissioners that, as a group, we have a serious level of concern with the information that we are seeing.”

Panel members agreed that states, as laboratories of democracy, should be allowed to experiment. Mr. Weil said the panel was not suggesting that the work requirements were “fatally flawed,” but he added, “I’m concerned about people’s real lives.”

Governor Hutchinson said the Arkansas program struck a balance between compassion and fiscal responsibility. The state, he said, pays health insurance premiums averaging $570 a month for Medicaid beneficiaries. With 4,353 fewer people on the rolls, he said, the state expects to save $30 million a year.