Arkansas health insurance exchange
Arkansas considers transition to state-run marketplace
By Carla Anderson
November 26, 2013
More than 14,000 Arkansas residents applied for health insurance in the first month of open enrollment through the health insurance marketplace, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). More than 7,400 of the applicants qualified for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). About 6,100 are eligible to purchase insurance through the marketplace. So far, just 250 have selected a health plan.
Arkansas is among a handful of states that opted for a partnership marketplace. The state website is called Arkansas Health Connector, and it provides key dates for enrolling, frequently asked questions and other information to help people understand their options for purchasing health insurance. State residents use the federal marketplace, HealthCare.gov, to compare plans, see if they qualify for subsidies and purchase coverage.
As in most states, Republicans and Democrats squabbled over exchange authorization. Legislation to establish a state-run exchange was considered during the 2011 legislative session but did not pass. The state Department of Insurance then shifted gears and received grant money in February 2012 to develop a partnership exchange. Arkansas retained responsibility for plan management and consumer assistance functions, and the federal government is performing all other functions.
The state is again evaluating a state-run exchange. The Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace Grants subcommittee is seeking funds to study operating state-based exchanges and begin planning a potential transition for the Arkansas Health Connector. The state will learn the outcome of its grant application in December and could move to a state-run marketplace by 2016.
Four positions were defined to help Arkansans shop on the marketplace. While the positions are very similar, they are overseen and funded differently.
- Navigators help people enroll and assist consumers once they are enrolled. For example, they can help someone who purchased insurance through the exchange with a complaint or coverage appeal. Navigator positions are overseen by federal authorities and funded with federal grants.
- Guides perform similar functions to navigators. However, they are employed by organizations that contract with the state department of insurance. The state funds the contracts with federal money, but the vendors set salaries and pay the guides.
- Certified application counselors are employees of and paid by hospitals, clinics, or consumer assistance organizations.
- Agents and brokers continue to assist consumers in selecting policies as they did before the marketplace. Unlike the other positions, agents and brokers can advise consumers on specific policies. Agents and brokers are paid by commission from insurance companies.
Four insurers are offering 71 policy options through the Arkansas marketplace: Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, QualChoice of Arkansas, NovaSys Health, and National Blue Cross Blue Shield Multi-state Plan. According to a report released by HHS, the average cost for a bronze plan — the lowest-cost option — in Arkansas is $275 a month. The national average for a bronze policy is $249 a month.
According to HHS, about 478,000 people in Arkansas (19 percent of the population) are uninsured and eligible to use the marketplace.
The current open enrollment runs from Oct. 1, 2013 through March 31, 2014. With an extension announced in late November, consumers now have until Dec. 23 to purchase a policy and have coverage begin Jan. 1, 2014.
Arkansas health insurance exchange links
Arkansas Health Connector
State Exchange Profile: Arkansas
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation overview of Arkansas’s progress toward creating a state health insurance exchange.