WASHINGTON — Arkansas is getting $42 million in federal funds to test its Payment Improvement Initiative as part of the federal Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Thursday the first six recipients of State Innovation Model awards designed to provide flexibility and support to states to help them deliver high-quality health care and lower costs.

The six states — including Arkansas — will use the award to implement their plans to transform their state health care delivery system.

“As a former governor, I understand the real sense of urgency that states feel to improve the health of their populations while also reducing total health care costs,” Sebelius said.

Arkansas will receive up to $42 million over the next 42 months to implement and test its State Health Care Initiative Plan.

State Surgeon General Dr. Joe Thompson and the state Department of Human Services, which oversees Medicaid, began work on the initiative two years ago after Gov. Mike Beebe suggested the state move away from paying doctors and other providers for individual services rather than for patient health outcomes. The result is the Arkansas Health Care Payment Improvement Initiative.

“We’ve been working toward this for quite some time. We thought we had an initiative that no one else has, … a model” for other states, Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said. “This is a pretty strong sign from the federal government that they agree.”

Some of the state’s largest private insurance companies joined the initiative, which launched in July 2012. In September, DHS submitted an application for the model testing grant that included details about the work done so far and letters of support from both the medical and business communities.

“Patients, doctors and other providers know the system has not been working well. The approach we are taking helps support doctors and hospitals to deliver the care patients expect,” Thompson said. “We have early indications that many providers are engaging to help make these changes happen. This grant will allow us to build on that momentum as we move the initiative forward.”

The Arkansas model, according to HHS, is based on two complimentary strategies – population-based care delivery and episodes-based payment – that are being launched statewide with the support of both public and private insurers.

By 2016, a majority of Arkansans should have access to a patient-centered medical home, which will provide comprehensive, team-based care with a focus on chronic care management and preventive services, according to HHS.

Arkansas will also continue to institute and expand its plan to reward providers who deliver high-quality, cost-effective and team-based care for those receiving acute care, undergoing medical procedures or specialty care.

The other states receiving awards are Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon and Vermont.