by Max Brantley
Teabaggers and other Republicans continue to fight to the last gasp to prevent implementation of federal health care reform in Arkansas, including the health care exchanges to provide affordable coverage to people who've previously been unable to get it.
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families continues to live in the world in which the law provides for such exchanges to begin in 2014 with information on how it will work.
The Arkansas Insurance Department is quickly moving forward with its efforts to build a health insurance Exchange by January 2014. Though Arkansas will have a federally-facilitated Exchange, stakeholders are working to ensure that the state has a strong role in its implementation. Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF) says consumer-based principles, with a particular focus on Arkansas families, should guide decision-making on the exchange.
AACF has developed a report, “Making Sure the Health Insurance Exchange Works for Arkansas Families,” to help guide and inform decision-making as plans for the Exchange move forward. The Exchange will be a marketplace where Arkansans can go to enroll in private insurance plans and receive subsidies, based on their income, to make coverage more affordable. Almost half a million Arkansans are expected to enroll in health plans through the Exchange or in the expanded Medicaid program in 2014.
Arkansas will oversee the roles of Plan Management and Consumer Assistance for the Exchange and has convened representatives from the health care system and consumer advocates to be part of the planning process through two advisory committees. Together, these groups will define and certify plans to be sold in the Exchange and help consumers learn about and enroll in coverage. AACF staff are actively involved in the work of both of these groups.
AACF Executive Director Rich Huddleston says it’s important for consumers to be a part of the process.
“Consumers are encouraged to attend the committee meetings and share their thoughts with consumer-focused members like AACF,” Huddleston says. “It is vital that consumers be a part of designing the components of the Exchange that will determine how and where they access coverage and what coverage will be available to meet their health needs. Our main focus is to make sure this benefits Arkansas’s children and families, not parties that stand to gain financially.”
AACF Health Policy Director Anna Strong authored the brief to outline principles that might encourage consumer participation and family-friendly outcomes for Arkansans. For example:
· Give consumers a strong voice in Exchange decisions.
· Ensure that the navigator program effectively reaches uninsured Arkansans.
· Balance plan value and cost for families and emphasize high quality and prevention
· Develop a single, user-friendly, streamlined application and enrollment process.
· Integrate Medicaid and Exchange system.
Arkansas has been a national leader in helping ensure that children have health coverage through the ARKids First program, reducing our uninsured rate by two thirds since 1997.
“Consumer-focused principles have guided the program design and outreach for ARKids First,” Strong says. “And we can use those lessons to lead the nation in building an Exchange that will successfully extend health coverage to entire families.”