Thursday, August 5, 2010

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – The state Insurance Commissioner announced that Arkansas has created a high risk insurance pool for people who have been without health insurance for six months and who have been denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

The new insurance plan, which started on August 1, was required by the national health care reform law signed by the president in March. Arkansas is one of 30 states that chose to administer its own high risk pool. To qualify for coverage in the pool, you must be an Arkansas resident who has been denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition, and you must have been without coverage for six months.

The plan will cover primary and specialty care, hospital stays and prescription drugs. Plans will have a $1,000 deductible. Premiums for non-users of tobacco will range from $156 to $624 a month. Coverage will include pre-existing conditions and will begin September 1 for qualifying applicants. For information call 1-800-285-6477 or email

Health care reform has generated heated opposition throughout Arkansas and the rest of the country. After the president signed it into law many states sued to block its implementation on constitutional grounds, but Arkansas so far has not. Health experts say that the law will bring about the greatest set of changes in the country's health care system since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid.

The state's chief medical officer briefed legislators on the impact of health care reform at a recent meeting in the state Capitol.

One of the biggest effects on state government will be an expansion of eligibility for Medicaid, the major government health program for the poor. An estimated 250,000 Arkansans will become newly eligible in 2014. About 750,000 Arkansans received some form of Medicaid services last year. Expansion of Medicaid is a provision in the national health care law that created concern about its potential long term costs to the state.

In 2014 individuals will have to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. If they cannot afford an individual policy, the government will subsidize their coverage. An estimated 323,000 Arkansans will get subsidies.

In 2014 employers of more than 50 full time workers will have to offer health insurance, or pay a penalty. This is commonly referred to as the "pay or play" provision. In Arkansas 17,000 businesses are large enough to fall under this requirement and 96.4 percent of them already offer health benefits to their workers.

Businesses with fewer than 50 employees will be exempt from the act. Companies with fewer than 25 full time employees can qualify for tax credits if they offer health benefits. In Arkansas this credit will be available for about 40,000 small businesses employing about 141,000 people.

Insurance companies will no longer be allowed to impose lifetime limits or rescind coverage of policy holders who get sick. Parents will be able to keep children on their policies until the children are 26.

People with Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage will get $250 rebates when they hit the gap in coverage known as the "doughnut hole." This should benefit 43,000 senior citizens in Arkansas. Beginning next year Medicare will pay for an annual preventive care checkup and eliminate co-pays for some preventive procedures and tests.

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