Posted by Anna Strong on October 4th 2013
Early evidence is already available in Arkansas to show the immediate benefits our state's children are receiving from the Affordable Care Act. We've written before that research shows the BEST way to cover the state's remaining 46,000 uninsured children is to make sure parents have access to affordable insurance. This parent coverage is especially important for the 31,000 children who already qualify for ARKids First - those who may be among the hardest to reach. Now we have local data to show the benefits of parent coverage for Arkansas children!
In early September, Arkansas's Department of Human Services mailed one-page letters to about 132,000 households that currently receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. Because of the regular, detailed income verifications for SNAP recipients, DHS could automatically verify that the adult members of these households also qualify for health coverage through Arkansas's Private Option. (The Private Option is Arkansas's version of Medicaid expansion in which DHS purchases private insurance for those newly eligible for Medicaid under the Affordable Car Act). Additionally, they could show that children whose families received the letter would qualify immediately for ARKids First.
The letters DHS mailed out stated that there was an "opportunity for the people in your home to get insured if they don't already have affordable health insurance." It had a list of the household members who were likely eligible for new or existing coverage but were not currently enrolled. Families simply needed to sign and date the form and return it within a few weeks of receipt.
The response was unbelievable.
This single effort has resulted in 57,982 new enrollees in Arkansas. Among those were about 55,500 adults whose coverage will begin in January. But even better, thanks to this letter, 2,539 children enrolled in ARKids First immediately. ARKids First-eligible but unenrolled children signed up in every single county in the state. For Arkansas, which already ranks #6 in the nation in enrolling children eligible for ARKids First, this letter made a huge difference for children.
Side note: a 5-6 percent response rate for direct mail is phenomenal. But 58,000 responses to 132,000 letters? Out of this world.
Arkansas DHS deserves much credit for taking the initiative to implement creative options that CMS allowed through a letter to states this past May, an opportunity advocates encouraged states to seize. This simple, relatively inexpensive marketing effort made a world of difference to thousands of Arkansas children. Additionally, it provided close-to-home evidence that what we've been saying all along is so true: enrolling parents truly makes a difference for children's coverage.
Sadly, additional efforts such as this to reach out to some middle-income families were stalled at the Capitol last week by a few legislators who do not want to advertise the new Affordable Care Act plans in Arkansas. It seems they do not want to inform hard-working but uninsured families about the financial subsidies - or even free premiums - are available for 95 percent of uninsured Arkansans through the state's new Marketplace or Private Option plans. Hopefully the success of this DHS letter will change the minds of those who did not vote to appropriate marketing funds to the Insurance Department going forward so families can learn about and enroll in new, affordable health coverage.