DHS: More than 56,000 seeking coverage under private option


LITTLE ROCK — State Department of Human Services officials said Tuesday that more than 56,000 people have said they want to sign up for the state’s plan to use federal Medicaid money to provide private health insurance to low-income Arkansans.

Between Oct. 1 and Oct. 12, DHS received 2,628 applications via Internet, phone or paper for the so-called “private option,” the agency said. Combined with 53,660 DHS clients who have returned letters saying they want to sign up and have been found eligible, that makes 56,288 Arkansans who have asked to participate.

Initially, 55,400 DHS clients returned letters saying they were interested in the private option, but some later were deemed ineligible or said they no longer wanted coverage, the agency said.

Of the 53,660 who have applied or said they want to apply, DHS has informed 2,973 that the traditional Medicaid program would better meet their needs. Of the rest, 10,454 have already completed the enrollment process.

“We knew those with the greatest medical needs would be most eager to enroll. Many have probably been without coverage for a while so I’m not surprised by the number,” DHS Director John Selig said in a news release. “This shows a need for us to continue our outreach efforts to younger and healthier people who are eligible for the program.”

The private option, officially known as the Arkansas Health Care Independence Program, is Arkansas’ alternative to the federal Affordable Care Act’s proposal that states expand their Medicaid rolls. The program is open to Arkansans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

The federal Medicaid program will pay 100 percent of the costs of the private option for the first three years, after which Arkansas’ share of the cost will increase gradually to 10 percent.

Some 500,000 people are expected to obtain health insurance through the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace, about half of them through the private option. The marketplace began operating Oct. 1.

Dec. 15 is the deadline to apply for insurance coverage starting Jan. 1.