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Private Option a Hit in Arkansas, Part of National Pattern

Arkansas is seeing a huge response to the Private Option, something other states are seeing when they offer healthcare coverage to the working poor in other ways.
Arkansas is seeing a huge response to the Private Option, something other states are seeing when they offer healthcare coverage to the working poor in other ways.
October 7, 2013

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The strong demand Arkansas is seeing for the Private Option health insurance jibes with the experience in other states that are offering health care coverage to the working poor. Some 55,000 people responded positively to the first Private Option outreach efforts by the state. In West Virginia an early offer is enrolling 45,000 in that state's expanded Medicaid plan, and Illinois reports a similarly strong response.

According to Amy Webb, communications director for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, there's a huge pent-up need for health coverage among the working poor, and Arkansas made the right choice by offering them the Private Option.

"It shows, one, that there is significant need out there for quality health insurance, especially for low-income Arkansans. And, two, that the approach that Arkansas decided to take was the right way to go," she said.

The Private Option differs from traditional Medicaid in that it gives subsidies for buying insurance rather than paying for care directly. The consumer group Families USA said several states reluctant to expand their traditional Medicaid programs are now considering plans similar to the Private Option. But according to Dee Mahan, director of Medicaid advocacy for Families USA, no matter how the programs have been structured, states that help cover low-income working adults have seen strong demand.

"In 2008 Oregon expanded their Medicaid program," Mahan said. "They expanded it to low-income adults. And they had 90,000 adults apply for 10,000 slots."

The Affordable Care Act provided for both the Private Option and expansion of traditional Medicaid. Critics of health care reform say the government should not be getting involved, but Amy Webb said the Private Option is important because it helps a group of people who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but who still couldn't afford health coverage.

"This population was important to reach out to. These are working-age adults, but they just could not afford insurance on their own. And so we're excited to see this level of response."

Thousands of other Arkansans are signing up for various kinds of health care plans through the state's new insurance exchange, ARHealthConnector.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - AR