LITTLE ROCK — An ardent legislative opponent of Arkansas’ plan to use Medicaid money to subsidize private insurance for the state’s working poor asked Thursday that the state audit the new program.
“This is not a witch hunt, I can assure you,” Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, told reporters after the Executive Committee of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee approved his request.
The full audit panel, of which King is co-chairman, will consider the request during a meeting Friday.
King said he has discussed the idea of an audit of the so-called private option with eight to 12 fellow lawmakers and concluded, “There’s certainly a lot of confusion out there.”
The senator said he was not suggesting any wrongdoing in the program.
“We want to have the legislative arm look into it and see what they can find out, there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s part of the checks and balances of the system,” he said.
Amy Webb, spokesman for the state Department of Human Services, which is handling enrollment for the private option, said the department would provide any information requested to King and state auditors.
“We know that a lot of people are interested in this program and we want to be as transparent as possible and give everyone all the information that they will find helpful,” Webb said.
The Legislature approved the private option during its regular session earlier this year as an alternative to adding up to 250,000 people to the state Medicaid rolls under the federal Affordable Care Act. Officially called the Arkansas Health Care Independence Program, it is open to people who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
King opposed the private option proposal during the legislative session and said Thursday he still thinks it was a bad idea.
“I think it’s a terrible thing we did, clearly,” he said.
King said one aspect of the plan he finds troubling and does not remember ever being discussed during the session is the auto-enrollment process, which allows the state to select a plan for the applicant.
“I can’t even comprehend why a government agency should be picking health plans for people,” he said.
Webb said information about the auto-enrollment element was presented to lawmakers and included in the waiver the state received from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to move forward with the program.
“We’ve been saying for a while now that auto-assignments would be a part of the process because we knew that there would be people who applied, are eligible, but they never took that last step, for whatever reason,” she said.
Under the law, applicants have 12 days from the time they have been approved for the insurance program to select a plan, or the state chooses one for them. They then have 30 days to decide whether they want to keep that plan or they can sign up for another, Webb said.
She said more than 72,000 people had applied for the private option insurance program by Nov. 2. As of Tuesday, 49,151 people had enrolled in the program, 40,405 of whom were auto-enrolled by the state.
Matt DeCample, spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe’s spokesman, said Thursday the governor’s office was not sure if an audit is necessary.
“I think all (King) needs to do to get those answers is to ask,” DeCample said. “If he is confused, we can get him copies of the waiver and answers to his other questions, too.”
State Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford said his department also would provide any information requested by state auditors.
Because of problems with the national roll-out of the federal Affordable Care Act, Bradford said it would be sometime next week before his department learns how many Arkansans have signed up for coverage through the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace, the public health insurance exchange run jointly by state and federal authorities.