Arkansas Health Care Exchange Enrollment Falling Below Target

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Friday, Mar. 28, 2014 10:16 am  

Jay Bradford

LITTLE ROCK — Signups for insurance under the federal health care law are far below the state's targets, with more than 33,500 people enrolled in the marketplace as the deadline nears, the Arkansas Insurance Department said Thursday.

Department officials told a legislative panel that 33,569 people had signed up for coverage through the exchange, an online marketplace set up under the federal health care law where consumers can shop for policies. The department had expected to sign up as many as 250,000 people.

Insurance officials said problems with the launch of the federal website put them behind on enrollment, but said they have seen signups picking up.

"We're pleased we've got 34,000 now with a really rocky three-month startup. It's working now and we think we may hit 50,000 before this open enrollment period ends, but that's a long way from where we need to be for Arkansans," said Cynthia Crone, who leads the Insurance Department's Health Benefits Exchange Partnership division.

Monday is the deadline to sign up for the insurance exchanges, but the Obama administration has announced that people who started applying for health insurance before the deadline will be given extra time to complete the process.

The figures don't include the more than 106,000 people who have enrolled in Arkansas' "private option" Medicaid expansion, which uses the exchange to select policies. Under the private option, Arkansas is using federal Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents. The program was approved as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law, and the Legislature earlier this month reauthorized the program for another year.

State Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford said the department slashed its request for a federal grant for an exchange because of a provision added to the private option law that prohibits the state from using public funds on promotion or outreach for the federal health law. The department is requesting $1.45 million, much less than the $10.8 million it had originally planned to seek.

Crone said the grant request is now limited primarily to money for monitoring plans and responding to inquiries from consumers.

The lawmaker who had proposed the restriction on promotion and outreach said the reduced request showed the benefits of his idea.

"I do think it's an early indicator that there is some substance to it and that we'll continue to see some spending reductions as a result of it," said Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena.

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