Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Arkansans have new choices when it comes to purchasing private health insurance. Arkansas is running a partnership marketplace, meaning that the state handles some functions while the federal government handles others. Arkansans looking to review and purchase health insurance will use the federal site. As of March 1st, 2014, over 27,000 citizens had chosen a Marketplace plan. Beginning in 2015, Arkansas will transition to a state-run Marketplace.

Arkansas chose an alternate route to traditional Medicaid expansion, implementing a private option for lower-income residents. This method allows lower-income citizens who would not normally qualify for Medicaid to enroll in specific private plans through the Marketplace. This not only helps lower-income Arkansas residents get coverage, but it will also save hospitals millions in uncompensated care costs. As of March 5th, 2014, nearly 100,000 people had enrolled in the new private option.

Purchasing Health Insurance in Arkansas

The federal site offers many ways to enroll – over the phone, in person, or through the website. Regardless of how an application is completed, they are all reviewed for eligibility in Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the private option, or financial assistance with private insurance through the Marketplace.

Arkansans who earn between 100% – 400% of the federal poverty level will qualify for some kind of assistance with monthly insurance premium payments. Those who earn between 100% – 250% of the poverty level will also qualify for assistance with cost-sharing, such as copayments and deductibles. For the 2013-14 enrollment period, the 2013 poverty level will be used, which was $23,550 for a family of four. As of March 1st, 2014, the number of Arkansans that applied and qualified for financial assistance was 38,500.

Uninsured Arkansans should have obtained health insurance by March 31st, 2014, when the 2014 open enrollment period ended. If they did not, they may face a tax penalty on their 2015 taxes. With the 2014 open enrollment period now closed, private insurance will no longer be available until the next open enrollment period, beginning November 15, 2014, unless the resident qualifies for a special enrollment period. Medicaid, CHIP, and the private option are available year-round, however.

Citizens who have work-based health coverage, Medicare, or other qualified insurance are considered covered under the ACA and do not need additional coverage. If insurance is unobtainable for financial or other reasons, an exemption from the tax penalty may be applied for. However, obtaining an exemption does not give coverage for health needs.

Medicaid and CHIP in Arkansas

Medicaid, CHIP, and the private option are available at any time throughout the year. Application can be made through the Marketplace or by contacting the state office directly.

If a resident does not qualify for either traditional Medicaid or the private option, CHIP may be an option for uninsured children in the family. This program covers uninsured children in families with moderate incomes. The adults in the family can still use the Marketplace to obtain insurance. In Arkansas, the CHIP program is called ARKids. The coverage provides checkups, immunizations, doctor visits, emergency care, dental and vision care, and more. For more information, visit the ARKids First site.

A lot has changed in the Arkansas health insurance market since the passage of the ACA. Uninsured residents have new options for purchasing private health insurance. Medicaid and CHIP are available to lower-income citizens, along with the new private option plan. It’s important for Arkansans to evaluate their options carefully so that they can move into the future with the right health coverage for their situation.