Good news from the Arkansas Marketplace
For too many years, when Arkansans talked about the price of their health insurance, good news was rare. For decades, costs have increased annually, hurting working families and leading to many companies dropping coverage for employees. Far too many of our people were left unable to make ends meet and still pay for insurance. Fortunately, circumstances have changed for many of those families who now obtain coverage through the state’s Health Insurance Marketplace. This week, the Arkansas Insurance Department announced additional positive developments. Rates for policies in the Marketplace will drop by an average of two percent for 2015.
The Health Insurance Marketplace began this year as part of the federal Affordable Care Act. It was designed to give more adults and working families access to coverage, as millions of Americans had no affordable options for health care.
In Arkansas, the Marketplace includes the Private Option; that’s the program that uses federal Medicaid funds to help low-income residents acquire private insurance policies. Approximately 200,000 Arkansans now have coverage through the Private Option, which has given our state one of the younger Marketplaces in the country. And a younger, healthier group of people in an insurance pool allows us to keep costs from increasing, or at least slow them down.
The other big goal of creating the Health Insurance Marketplace was to give consumers a variety of choices when purchasing coverage. Having more people in the marketplace fosters stronger competition and better choices for consumers. During 2014, the first year for the Marketplace, Arkansans had four insurance carriers to choose from. In 2015, they will have five.
Not everyone using the Marketplace will see a two-percent rate reduction next year. Some may even see small increases. Policies offered under the Private Option, however, will realize a small decrease, but mostly will remain flat. Other rates will drop by more than ten percent.
What does all of this mean for Arkansans? This is the first year we have actual data on this portion of the Affordable Care Act. It shows us that, so far, the Private Option is doing exactly what we crafted it to do. We are providing better health care for 200,000 of our people while keeping the costs of that coverage under control. Arkansas is ranked first in the nation for reductions to the rate of our uninsured population. National reports are touting our reductions in emergency-room visits and admissions.
By no stretch does this mean we have a perfect system in place. But as more data is generated by the real-life experiences of those receiving care, we expect to see adjustments, both to the Private Option and the Health Insurance Marketplace overall.
I am heartened by this latest news of falling insurance rates and uncompensated care costs that continue a year of positive results from our efforts. Arkansas is again in the forefront of progress and that fact is being noted nationwide. The most important statistic, of course, is that, hundreds of thousands of Arkansans are receiving better health care, they’re receiving it sooner, and they’re living healthier lives as a result.