Tuesday, April 30, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Expansion set to kick off

As local legislators looked on, Gov. Mike Beebe last week signed into law health-insurance coverage for about 250,000 working poor Arkansans.

The private-option is part of the Affordable Care Act Medicaid expansion plan that received 75 percent approval in the legislature thanks to the efforts of House Speaker Davy Carter (R-Cabot) and Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Searcy). The plan will move thousands of Arkansans off Medicaid and into private programs such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the premiums for three years and 90 percent afterward, saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Now comes the hard part: Signing up eligible recipients before the program kicks off next January.

Those who qualify for the private option will have annual incomes below 138 percent of the poverty level. For a family of four, they would qualify if annual income is $32,499 or less.

When the private option beings in January, it will include everything from preventative care and doctor’s visits to hospital visits. Some things will require co-pays, helping ensure some personal responsibility.

Most of the signup will be through health exchanges on line and at county DHS offices.

According to Amy Webb, communications director for the Department of Human Services, the open enrollment period begins in October.

The state has about 776,000 people on its Medicaid rolls—children, disabled people, some pregnant women and some elderly, particularly in long-term care. Some of those people will move to the private option, saving the state money. Arkansas pays 30 percent of their costs, most of which will be shifted to the federal government.

The Insurance Department will put out guidance to prospective insurance carriers so they can design plans, Webb told The Leader’s John Hofheimer last week. “That needs to happen in the next few weeks. “We couldn’t move forward until private option passed.” This will include public hearings, she said.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield is among insurers working on new products to meet the requirements of the federal mandates. The private option will not only help the sick but add to the bottom line of Arkansas’ insurance companies.