155,000 in state eligible for private option

More than 155,000 Arkansas have applied and been found eligible for the so-called private option, or about 70 percent of the 225,000 Arkansans estimated to qualify for the program, the state Department of Human Services said Monday.

The agency also estimated that 82 percent of those Arkansans had incomes too low to qualify for federal subsidies to buy insurance through the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace. The subsidies are available to families with incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

"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," DHS Director John Selig stated in a news release. "Clearly there was a real need in a lot of these families."

The private option, signed into law last April, allows the state to use federal Medicaid money to pay the private health insurance premiums for people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $16,105 for a household of one.

Statewide, 61 percent of Arkansans in the program are women and 64 percent are ages 19-44, a somewhat younger population than those getting coverage through the federal insurance marketplaces, said 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.

Unlike the insurance marketplace, which had an open enrollment period that ended March 31 and another scheduled to begin in November, people who are eligible for the private option can apply at any time throughout the year.

People in all 75 counties in Arkansas have been approved to get insurance through the program, DHS said. In Van Buren County, 992 people, 60 percent of them female, signed up. Pulaski County led the state with 20,281 sign-ups, followed by Washington County with 8,093, Benton County with 6,953, Garland County with 6,429, Sebastian County with 5,278, Craighead County with 5,252, Faulkner County with 5,235, Jefferson County with 5,105, Crittenden County with 4,130, White County with 3,770 and Saline County with 3,521.