LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas spent $712.7 million in federal dollars on the Medicaid expansion program known as the private option in the first half of the 2015-16 fiscal year, or $101 million less than projected, the state Department of Human Services said Friday.

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas spent $712.7 million in federal dollars on the Medicaid expansion program known as the private option in the first half of the 2015-16 fiscal year, or $101 million less than projected, the state Department of Human Services said Friday.


The agency said it now projects that the program’s total cost for the fiscal year that ends June 30 will be $1.55 billion, or $74.7 million below budget.


The private option uses federal Medicaid money to subsidize private health insurance for Arkansans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. At the end of January, 267,590 Arkansans had been deemed eligible for the program, and premiums had been paid for 212,301.


DHS spokesman Amy Webb said the private-option population is larger than projected, but that increase is more than offset by per-person costs that are below projections. Per-person costs were below the government’s budget cap at the end of the 2015 calendar year, and that trend has continued into 2016, Webb said.


The average monthly premium in January was $366.55, and the average total cost, including wraparound services such as non-emergency medical transportation, was $507.12, according to DHS.


"There likely are several contributing factors to the higher-than-projected number of people on the program, including the fact that more people are losing access to employer-sponsored coverage," Webb said in an email. "That happened, for example, when the state’s teacher insurance program eliminated coverage eligibility for people working less than full time."


Webb noted that Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s plan for revamping the private option, which he has proposed renaming Arkansas Works, includes providing support for employers who want to maintain their employees’ health coverage.


She also said the state has seen a significant drop in the number of people seeking a disability determination, which would make them eligible for traditional Medicaid rather than the private option.