Taking advantage of opportunity
During his recent trip to Louisiana, Bill Clinton took time in his speech to thank the people of Louisiana. He thanked them for playing a role in paying for Arkansans’ health insurance. And he was right. Every state that borders Arkansas is helping to pay for the health care of our citizens. That’s a direct result of the Private Option.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court left the decision to states whether or not to accept federal Medicaid dollars to insure more Americans under the Affordable Care Act. Arkansas crafted a unique, bipartisan program to use that money to obtain private insurance policies, rather than simply adding people to the traditional Medicaid program. The Private Option passed the Arkansas General Assembly with a three-quarters supermajority.
Currently, 200,000 people have signed up for the Private Option, and thousands more previously uninsured Arkansans now have health coverage. The savings to our state budget cleared the way for nearly $100 million in tax cuts, a boon for our economy. Our hospitals, which still face Medicare cuts under the federal law, are faring much better than if we had turned down the federal money.
And, to this point, that’s exactly the predicament every state bordering us finds itself facing. They have refused any federal Medicaid dollars for their people, often because of ideological differences with President Obama and Congress. In Arkansas, we understand that you don’t turn your back on an opportunity to help your citizens just because you disagree with someone politically. At the state level, we didn’t have a say in the Affordable Care Act, but we did recognize that this was a chance to benefit Arkansans.
One year ago, Arkansas had the second-worst rate for residents without health insurance in the country. Only Texas fared worse. In the past year, we have seen the biggest drop of that uninsured rate of any state in the entire nation. Thanks in large part to the Private Option, we now have a better uninsured rate than all our border states. And because of the Affordable Care Act, all those states have helped pay for our improvement. One thing hasn’t changed. Texas still remains last in the country.
The Private Option has not only been an advantage for the people it provides health insurance to; it has helped our entire health-care system. Hospitals are witnessing dramatic drops in uncompensated care costs for patients who are admitted or treated in emergency rooms. Uncompensated care had previously driven insurance costs upward for decades. Now, for 2015, policies in the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace will see an average decrease of two percent. We are closely watching premium costs for Private Option policies, and they have fallen for five consecutive months.
This is only the first year for the Private Option, and it is something our leaders will keep a close watch over in the years ahead. In 2017, Arkansas begins paying for a small fraction of its costs, eventually capping at ten percent. While we must keep the Private Option in place for our people and our budget, we must also ensure that it is working effectively to keep our costs, and our insurance rates, as low as possible.