Report says Arkansas has steepest drop in uninsured

by The City Wire staff ( 3 views 

Arkansas has seen the nation’s steepest reduction in its percentage of uninsured residents, noted a Gallup report released Tuesday (Aug. 5).

The report, based on telephone interviews with 88,678 respondents nationwide, found that the uninsured rate in Arkansas dropped from 22.5% in 2013 to 12.4% in 2014.

Almost half of Arkansans who were not insured in 2013 are now insured, according to the survey. Respondents in the telephone poll were asked, “Do you have health insurance coverage?”

Arkansas’ insured rate in 2013 ranked it next to last nationally, just ahead of Texas. Now it is 22nd along with New Hampshire. Delaware has the lowest at 3.3%. Texas is still last at 24%.

After Arkansas, the next biggest drop is in Kentucky, whose uninsured rate has fallen 8.5% from 20.4% to 11.9%. The top 10 states all expanded Medicaid coverage as part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The rest of the top 10, in order, are Delaware, Washington, Colorado, West Virginia, Oregon, California, New Mexico and Connecticut.

Nationally, the uninsured rate has declined from 17.3% in 2013 to 13.4% in the second quarter of 2014. It was 14.8% in 2008.

In a phone interview, Gov. Mike Beebe said, “The overwhelming reason for the change is the Private Option.”

The Private Option is the program passed in 2013 that uses Medicaid dollars under Obamacare to buy private insurance for lower-income Arkansans. As of June 30, 176,691 Arkansans have been insured because of the private option. Of that number, 19,508 were assigned to traditional Medicaid because they were judged to be medically frail.

The program must be funded by a three-fourths vote of the state Legislature every year. Earlier this year, it passed with no votes to spare in the Senate and only after significant legislative wrangling.

Beebe said the drop in the uninsured is another point in the Private Option’s favor as legislators again will consider its survival starting in January. Without those federal dollars, he said, the Legislature would not have been able to enact the tax cuts it has enacted, and hospitals would have have lost more money providing uncompensated care.

“There are lots of reasons, some budgetary, some humanitarian, some political, but there are a lot of reasons why it would be very, very difficult to undo the Private Option,” he said.

Sen. David Sanders, R-Little Rock, one of the Private Option’s legislative architects, said the decrease in uninsured Arkansans is a success, but is only one of the program’s points of emphasis.

“I think the Private Option will rise and fall on the strength of the policy,” he said. Later, he said, “Essentially the question is, you know, does the policy work? So it’s one thing to cover; it’s another thing to do it in the most successful manner and achieve the goals that we set out.”