Small-Business Exchange is Truly an Arkansas Success Story (OPINION)

by Talk Business & Politics ([email protected]) 68 views 

This month, Arkansas was added to a short list of states that have designed, tested, and implemented a state-based health insurance marketplace for small businesses. The program is commonly referred to as SHOP, standing for Small Business Health Options Program. Arkansas SHOP opened for enrollment Nov. 1, on-time and on-budget — no small feat given the less positive experience of several states across the country.

Arkansas SHOP, offered under the brand My Arkansas Insurance, is supported by the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace (AHIM), commissioned in the 2013 regular session of the Arkansas General Assembly. AHIM was created to manage and implement a state-based health insurance exchange in Arkansas.

Prior to opening Arkansas SHOP, AHIM staff and partner organizations invested months seeking input from nearly 2,000 Arkansans, including agents and brokers, small-business owners and their employees. The input received was vital to the development of the program and its supporting infrastructure. In the weeks leading up to the launch, approximately 100 agents and brokers across the state were trained to assist small businesses wishing to enroll in Arkansas SHOP. In addition, extensive tests were conducted to ensure that the website was ready and functionally sound. AHIM did all of this in the shortest length of time and with the smallest staff of any state exchange in the country.

Arkansas SHOP carries a number of appeals and benefits to small businesses wishing to offer and contribute to the cost of health insurance coverage for their employees.

Small businesses with fewer than 25 employees represent more than 90 percent of Arkansas businesses. Through SHOP, they may qualify for a tax credit, offsetting up to 50 percent of the costs associated with contributing to employee premiums. That alone could make it financially feasible for small businesses to provide their employees with insurance coverage, perhaps for the first time.

More and more, employees of small businesses value the availability of health insurance coverage as they consider prospective employers. More than 80 percent of small-business employees identify health insurance as a priority and a valued benefit that influences their choice of where to work. Small businesses that are able to provide employees health insurance coverage are more competitive as they seek to attract and retain the best, most talented workers. That fact, coupled with the aforementioned tax credit, makes Arkansas SHOP worthy of serious consideration for small businesses.

Arkansas SHOP is homegrown, developed by Arkansans, for Arkansans. There’s an appeal to knowing that the program is exclusively for businesses here in Arkansas. Arkansas SHOP is sold by agents and brokers serving communities across the state. Businesses enrolling in Arkansas SHOP typically work closely with an insurance professional in their own, local community in completing their enrollment.

Arkansas SHOP is also supported by an Arkansas Contact Center, with service representatives located in Arkansas. This means that agents and brokers, business owners and their employees can get individualized assistance from fellow Arkansans, as opposed to a faceless voice on the far end of a toll-free number.

Arkansas has been recognized around the country as an innovator in developing unique approaches to extending health insurance coverage to Arkansans. The design, development and implementation of the Arkansas SHOP small-business health insurance marketplace serves to reinforce that reputation. It reflects commitment to the health of all Arkansas residents and the value of collaborative effort on the part of many dedicated individuals.

Arkansas SHOP is truly an Arkansas success story. Not only was its launch successfully executed, but the program will now contribute to the success of the state’s small businesses, the wellbeing of their employees and the general vitality of the Arkansas economy. 

Cheryl Smith Gardner is the executive director of the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace.