Chamber crowd hears about Obamacare rules

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 49 views 

Fort Smith area business owners got a lesson in the Affordable Care Act and Arkansas' "private option" at this morning's Fort Smith Area Chamber of Commerce's First Friday Breakfast held at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.

A room filled to capacity with representatives from businesses large and small were there for a presentation from Craig Wilson, director of Access to Quality Care at the Arkansas Center for Health Information.

During the presentation, Wilson made clear that the majority of Arkansas businesses will not actually fall under the government's mandate under the ACA to provide health insurance to employees.

"Businesses with less than 50 employees, which is 95% of all Arkansas businesses, by the way, are not required to offer coverage. But under there law, there is a tax credit available for those employees who help purchase insurance for employees."

The businesses that have more than 50 employees are already, in large part, offering coverage to their employees, he added.

"This discussion about the employer mandate, although it will have an affect on some employers, 93% already offer insurance to their employees."

According to Wilson, Arkansas businesses could find themselves in a far better position to provide insurance for their employees than businesses in other states that fall under the requirements of the ACA due to the fact that premiums in Arkansas are so much lower than in other states.

"Even so, those (annual health insurance premiums) have doubled over the past decade, going from about $6,000 for a family of four to roughly $12,000 for a family of four. When you couple that with the median income for our state, which is roughly $40,000, a little bit less. That provides a lot of hardship for Arkansans because nearly 80% of Arkansans make less than 400% of federal poverty level."

According to Wilson, 400% of the federal poverty level is $44,680 per year in annual salary. An individual at 100% of poverty level only earns about $11,000 per year, while 138% of poverty level is $31,000 for a family of four.

He said that was the income threshold required by the legislation, commonly referred to as the private option, that passed the Arkansas General Assembly earlier this year and expanded Medicaid to more individuals by taking money that would go toward funding the Medicaid expansion and instead using it to provide assistance in obtaining private insurance.

Due to the financial burdens associated with insurance coverage, especially for families, Wilson said about 26% of Arkansans, or about 550,000 people, have gone without insurance, with some of the largest number of uninsured living just south and east of Fort Smith and Sebastian County, not in the Delta as some would expect.

Funding for the private option will be provided by the federal government from 2014 – 2016, Wilson told business owners, adding that an estimated 150,000 will be able to be insured through the private option's health insurance exchange.

The exchange will actually be nothing more than a website listing the various health insurance options available through the private option, Dolores Chitwood of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors told the crowd.

Heather Haywood with the Arkansas Insurance Department, told the crowd, which included many small business owners who would not necessarily fall under the mandatory coverage mandate, that plans will become available for qualified individuals starting Oct. 1.

The crash course outlining details of both the ACA and the private option for business owners and managers came on the same day that news broke from The City Wire content partner Talk Business that only four insurance carriers would qualify for inclusion in the health insurance exchange.

The carriers who will participate include Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arkansas, Celtic/Novasys, QualChoice of Arkansas and national Blue Cross Blue Shield.

“The Arkansas Insurance Department has submitted recommendations to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for approval of plans to be certified for sale on the Health Insurance Market Place (HIM) in Arkansas. Those companies submitting one or more plans are Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, Celtic Insurance Company (Novasys), QualChoice of Arkansas, and Blue Cross Blue Shield Multi-state Plan,” Insurance Commission Jay Bradford in a statement.

“These companies and their plans will be reviewed by CMS in the order in which they are received. As Arkansas is a state partnership marketplace, the federal government will operate the Arkansas exchange and will make the final decision as to which plans may be sold through the marketplace at the state level. AID’s recommendation of plans allows the insurers to continue the process to become certified by CMS to participate in the exchange. A final decision is expected from CMS by early September.”