LITTLE ROCK — The state Department of Human Services on Tuesday submitted Arkansas’ application for a federal Medicaid waiver approving the so-called "private option" for expanding health coverage that the Legislature approved this year.
The application is part of Arkansas’ plan to use federal Medicaid dollars to buy private insurance for thousands of the state’s working poor. Officials say the proposal will improve access to health care, strengthen personal responsibility and cut costs.
The Obama administration has given unofficial approval to the plan, but a waiver is still needed. DHS submitted its application to the federal government after a public comment period that followed public hearings on the draft application at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith in July.
The federal Affordable Care Act proposed that states expand their Medicaid rolls to include people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — $15,856 for an individual or $32,499 for a family of four. Arkansas instead is proposing using federal Medicaid money to buy private insurance for that population, estimated at up to 250,000 Arkansans, through the planned insurance exchange.
The federal government would pay the fill cost of the plan for the first three years, after which the state’s share would increase gradually to 10 percent.
DHS hopes to get a response by Oct. 1, when enrollment is to begin in the exchange, though spokeswoman Amy Webb said Tuesday the agency is aware it could take longer. Coverage is to begin Jan. 1.
The waiver is not the only possible hurdle for the private option. A group called Arkansans Against Big Government is gathering signatures in an effort to place a measure on the November 2014 ballot giving voters the option of repealing the enabling legislation for the plan.