Arkansas shows nation’s largest drop in uninsured, but challenges remain

As Arkansans rightly celebrate a remarkable decrease in the percentage of the state’s uninsured adults, it’s a good time to reflect on how our state accomplished this feat.

It wasn’t just because Arkansas policymakers chose to create the Private Option coverage alternative for our state’s lowest-income adults. It’s also because we worked hard as a state to reach out to those who might be eligible and to inform them of their best options for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

As Gallup reported in a survey released this week, Arkansas led the nation in decreasing the percentage of adults who are uninsured. We cut the rate in HALF – an incredible accomplishment – from 22.5 percent in 2013 to 12.4 percent in the middle of 2014. We went from having the second-highest rate of uninsured adults to No. 22 in the rankings of insured adults. Like the others in the top 10 states to decrease the uninsured rate, Arkansas chose to accept federal funds to cover more low-income residents. In a bipartisan effort backed by House and Senate leadership and the governor, our state created a unique, alternative plan that provides private insurance coverage paid for with Medicaid funding.

So far, more than 184,000 Arkansans have been approved for coverage under the Private Option and nearly 39,000 additional Arkansans enrolled in non-Medicaid plans through the new marketplace. A big reason for that was the extra effort we made to ensure that those eligible for it would know about it. Arkansas sent letters to SNAP, or food stamp, recipients, in late 2013 to let them know they were likely eligible for the Private Option coverage. The response was phenomenal, and it helped lead to the great reduction we’ve seen in our uninsured rates. We also used federal funds to train and pay in-person assisters who could help Arkansans learn about all their options.

Now, those outreach programs are threatened by the recent legislative steps taken to cut or eliminate funding for in-person assistance and public education regarding insurance options. In a response to surveys after enrollment, consumers said they were pleased with the much-needed information assisters who were trained to help them. If we don’t provide this unbiased information, consumers will have to rely only on companies that stand to make a profit off their coverage choices.

Arkansas has a lot to be proud of in the sound public policy choices we’ve made to decrease the state’s uninsured rate.  Let’s keep this momentum going by making sure we use available federal funding to spread the word about coverage options through media campaigns, unbiased assistance and public education.