Arkansas Covers 75% of Eligible People in Private-Option Medicaid

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By Joan McCarter, Daily Kos

Arkansas’ version of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, its “private option,” has been a rousing success, having signed up 75 percent of the state’s eligible population so far, and still going strong.

The state’s Department of Human Services said more than 170,000 people have applied and were determined eligible for Arkansas’s “private option” program, which is about 14,500 more than how many people had signed up last month. Department officials say around 225,000 Arkansans qualify for the program, which uses federal Medicaid dollars to purchase private health insurance for the poor.

After a legislative hearing, the director of Arkansas’s Medicaid program Andy Allison said the May numbers were meeting expectations quicker than different health care programs established before it.

“What I would say is that we’re reaching the predicted levels of participation far quicker than previous expansions,” he said. “Not sure we should be surprised by that given the scale and attention placed nationally on coverage, which is unprecedented.”

People can sign up for Medicaid any time, and don’t have to wait for an open enrollment period as they would if buying a fully private plan. So it’s not impossible for Arkansas to reach nearly full enrollment in the program this year. The program has been so successful so far that the debate on it in the legislature is shifting from the very existence of the program to whether there’s adequate coverage for everything across the state. In this hearing, “some legislators were concerned that access to vision and dental care offered by one health insurance provider under the state’s ‘private option’ program wasn’t equal across Arkansas.” It’s pretty significant that the conversation in Arkansas has moved from making sure people have basic, essential health care to whether everyone has equal access to eye doctors and dentists. That’s real progress.

As is the fact that Arkansas’ uninsured rate has dropped, that early data shows that fewer uninsured people are showing up at acute care hospitals, that the population of people in the private option are much younger than the population in the fully private exchange, and that premiums will probably be lower going forward. There’s still a lot to be proved for privatized Medicaid, but in Arkansas, it’s meant more than 170,000 people who wouldn’t have otherwise had care now do.

Reprinted with permission from The Daly Kos.

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