Five months into the implementation of the private option and other health care reform measures, the state’s surgeon general and Arkansas hospital leaders said that improved health insurance coverage is showing up in preliminary data.

“Hospitals are seeing a positive impact of the Private Option so far,” Arkansas Hospital Association CEO Bo Ryall told the Hospital and Medicaid Study Subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council. “We think the Private Option is doing exactly what was intended.”

The AHA is in the process of surveying its 83 acute care hospital members. Forty-two of those hospitals responded to a seven-question survey. Ryall and Arkansas Surgeon General Joe Thompson said the early results indicated:

  • The total number of emergency room visits in the 42 hospitals declined 2% on average in the first three months of 2014 vs. the same time period in 2013;
  • The number of uninsured patients in those hospitals emergency room visits is down 24%; and
  • For those requiring hospital stays, there has been a 30% reduction in the number of uninsured patients.

Ryall said the collection of data from its member hospitals is continuing and updates would be provided to the legislature. He added that the sample will be better at the 6-month mark. Arkansas hospitals have estimated that there is as much as $389 million in lost revenue due to uncompensated care utilization. ┬áHospital officials cautioned that while the number of visits appears to be down, the verdict is still out on the financial impact of the trends. ┬áHospital billings lag — particularly when analyzing uncompensated care costs.

Ray Montgomery, President and CEO of White County Medical Center in Searcy, said his hospital has seen a 50% reduction in year-over-year emergency room visits. Montgomery also said White County Medical Center has seen a 14% increase in Medicaid patients and an 8% increase in commercial insurance patients.

State Rep. David Meeks (R-Conway) expressed concern that the information released today was too preliminary. “I’m very hesitant, very concerned that we’re releasing information without other hospitals reporting.”

State Sen. Stephanie Flowers (D-Pine Bluff) complained about the hastiness of the subcommittee meeting being called — less than 24 hours advance notice — and she questioned why data was not provided to members in advance.

“I don’t know if this is politics, posturing or what,” Flowers said. “I want our committee to get the truth and have the opportunity to evaluate and review facts and not just take somebody’s word.”

The Private Option has been a contentious issue in Arkansas politics. Democrats have been fairly unified in support of the low-income health insurance program that was crafted in the 2013 General Assembly. Republicans have been split on the issue.

In several GOP primaries, the Private Option has been a defining issue among candidates.

Thompson also reported that the state will begin a massive evaluation of the Private Option’s impact this summer. The research, which is called for by federal Medicaid officials, requires the state to evaluate access to health care, clinical outcomes, enrollment in coverage, and the cost-effectiveness of the low-income health insurance program.

Thompson said the data from that evaluation would not be available for presentation until the latter half of year two of the program, which would be the summer of 2015.

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