The Arkansas Department of Human Services is often unfairly depicted as a faceless bureaucracy. It is the largest entity within our state government, with a small army of employees at its disposal. DHS employs roughly 7,400 people across nine divisions and six public offices. Navigating this massive system can feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to. Prior to coming to Disability Rights Arkansas, I was a part of that small army. But as I begin a new chapter in my professional life, hopefully I can offer some insight and tips to help demystify the Department’s inner workings.

One of the most profoundly understated aspects of DHS is the sheer weight of responsibility it maintains. It is charged with the implementation and oversight of every Medicaid program authorized by the Arkansas General Assembly as well as other social services like SNAP, adoption programs, and disaster relief. However, contrary to what most people believe, DHS does not have a monolithic master database that contains every scrap of a beneficiary’s health and demographic information. Most of your medical history is contained on paper in a desk at one of the county offices. Meanwhile, information like where you live, your social security number, and which benefits you are currently receiving is maintained among several databases. None of them are interconnected, and they all require manual input and maintenance to keep the data current.

Additionally, most employees only receive training in the programs their division oversees, and their access to information within each database is sometimes limited to those Medicaid programs. For instance, if you had called me a year ago with a question about TEFRA, I would have had no idea how to help or even who you should call. I was an administrative staffer in the Division of Aging, Adult, and Behavioral Health while TEFRA is managed by the Division of Medical Services.

A few tips

If you have problems or questions about your benefits, the best place to start is with your local DHS county office. Individuals from multiple divisions work from those offices, but the Division of County Operations is expected to understand the eligibility criteria for every Medicaid program. Talking over your options with a program specialist at one of the county offices is the best place to ask your more basic questions. They should always be able to provide a bedrock understanding of the services available to you.

Those program specialists should also know which division manages your program. Knowing that information will give you a basis to reach out and find contacts that are knowledgeable about the nuances of your benefits. For instance, if you go to humanservices.arkansas.gov and click on the “About DHS” tab, you will see a list of the divisions along the left side. When you click on each division, nearly all of them will provide the direct numbers to key people within those divisions, but that information is only helpful if you already know which division is overseeing your care.

You may also find answers to many of your questions by reviewing the Medicaid manual for your program. If you cannot reach anyone within DHS who can answer your questions, the manuals are always a good place to start.

  • To find the current version, visit Medicaid.mmis.arkansas.gov/provider/provider.aspx.
  • Along the left side of the screen you will see “Billing and Policy.” If you let your mouse rest over it without clicking, a menu will appear.
  • At the top of that menu is, “Billing Manuals and Documentation.” Click that link, and click “accept” on the next screen.
  • If you hit accept, you should be taken to a screen with links to every manual currently available. Once you click on one, you will be taken to a screen that gives you each section of the manual.
  • “Section II” is the only part that differs from manual to manual. This section will explain the scope of the program, the division responsible for managing the program, the eligibility criteria, and the time frame in which various steps must be completed.

All that being said, some problems cannot be resolved with only these basic resources. When that is the case, there are a number of free tools available to you. You can always call us at DRA (800-482-1174) or the Center for Arkansas Legal Services/Legal Aid of Arkansas (800-952-9243 or 501-376-3423).

Mitchell Harlan is a staff advocate at Disability Rights Arkansas. Email him at mharlan@disabilityrightsar.org.