By Carla Anderson
March 5, 2014
About 22,000 Arkansas selected private health plans between Oct. 1 and Feb. 1, and about 49,000 additional applicants were deemed eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) according to the Feb. 12 enrollment report issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to the Arkansas Health Connector, about 570,000 people in the state are uninsured.
Ninety percent of Arkansans who selected a health plan were eligible for financial assistance compared to 82 percent nationally. Sixteen percent selected bronze plans, 66 percent selected sliver plans, and 17 percent selected gold plans. Gold plans have higher premiums, but lower deductibles.
Enrollment for private insurance in 2014 continues through March 31. Policies purchased by the 15th of the month will be effective the first day of the following month. 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 a “private option” which uses Medicaid funding to enable low-income residents to purchase private insurance through the marketplace. The approach is also called “premium assistance,” and it has been adopted or considered by a number of other states. About 94,000 Arkansans have already enrolled in the private option.
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