By Carla Anderson
March 31, 2014
As of March 24, about 33,500 Arkansas residents signed up for private health plans. Ninety-one percent of Arkansans who selected a health plan were eligible for financial assistance compared to 83 percent nationally. Seventeen percent selected bronze plans, 67 percent selected sliver plans, and 16 percent selected gold plans. Gold plans have higher premiums, but lower deductibles.
While signups in private health plans are below target, both Medicaid and the state’s “private option” are seeing significant enrollment. The federal government reports that more than 57,000 people had been deemed eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as of March 1. The Arkansas Department of Human Services reports more than 106,000 people have signed up for the private option, which uses Medicaid funding to enable low-income residents to purchase private insurance through the marketplace.
Enrollment for private insurance in 2014 ends March 31. However, anyone who has started an application on HealthCare.gov but not completed it as of March 31 can have until April 15 to finish enrolling. The extension is available in all states using HealthCare.gov for enrollment, which includes Arkansas. Consumers can qualify for the extension just by clicking a box on HealthCare.gov; no documentation is needed. Individuals who remain uninsured after March may face a tax penalty of $95 or one percent of income, whichever is greater. Enrollment for Medicaid or CHIP continues throughout the year.
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.
Arkansas is transitioning to a state-run exchange. The 11-member board of directors for the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace began meeting in September 2013. The Arkansas-run marketplace will be operational for open enrollment in October 2015, and coverage will begin in 2016.
For 2014, 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.
Arkansas was the first state to receive federal approval to expand Medicaid through the private option. The approach is also called “premium assistance,” and it has been adopted or considered by a number of other states. While the Arkansas legislature authorized the private option in 2013, it requires reauthorization annually. In late February, the Arkansas Senate approved continued funding for the private option. It took the House five votes to reauthorize funding in early March. Arkansas appropriation bills must receive a 75 percent majority in both houses to pass, and the private option just squeaked by with votes of 27-8 in the Senate and 76-24 in House. Some Republican legislators are already saying they will fight against the private option again next year.
Arkansas Health Connector
Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace Board
Website for nonprofit overseeing Arkansas’ transition to a state-run marketplace
State Exchange Profile: Arkansas
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation overview of Arkansas’s progress toward creating a state health insurance exchange.
Let your Arkansas governor and legislators know how you feel about the state’s proposed health insurance exchange.Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe