A press release issued Monday by the Arkansas Department of Human Services reports that nearly 70% of Arkansans eligible for the private option have signed-up within the first six months. A total of 155,567 of the estimated 225,000 Arkansans who qualify for health insurance through the Private Option had applied and been determined eligible as of March 31; 1,217 of which were Polk County enrollees. It stated that an analysis of the demographic information showed that most, 82%, had incomes too low to qualify for insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
Mena Regional Health System Administrator Tim Bowen said that this impressive enrollment will be a positive for the local hospital by lowering the amount the hospital incurs each year in uncompensated care.
Unlike the Health Insurance Marketplace, which has an open enrollment period that ended March 31, people who are eligible for the Private Option can apply at any time throughout the year.
“We now know that an overwhelming majority of Arkansans in the program would have likely gone without health insurance had the Legislature not passed the Private Option,” said John Selig, Director of the Arkansas Department of Human Services. “Clearly, there was a real need in a lot of these families.”
The Private Option, which sparked much debate, was signed into law last April and allows the state to use federal Medicaid funding to pay the private health insurance premiums for those making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $16,105 for a household of one. Arkansas was the first state in the country to place people in private plans rather than expand the traditional Medicaid program. Several other states are now exploring similar options.
Statewide, 61% of Arkansans in the program are women and 64% are ages 19 to 44 years old, a somewhat younger population than those getting coverage through the federal insurance marketplaces, explained Arkansas Medicaid Director Andy Allison. “The average age and sheer number of people in the Private Option will have a significant impact on competitiveness and strength of the state’s insurance market moving forward,” Allison said.