- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - About 75 percent of Arkansans eligible for the state’s Medicaid expansion program have signed up, officials said Tuesday.

The state’s Department of Human Services said more than 170,000 people have applied and were determined eligible for Arkansas’s “private option” program, which is about 14,500 more than how many people had signed up last month. Department officials say around 225,000 Arkansans qualify for the program, which uses federal Medicaid dollars to purchase private health insurance for the poor.

After a legislative hearing, the director of Arkansas’s Medicaid program Andy Allison said the May numbers were meeting expectations quicker than different health care programs established before it.

“What I would say is that we’re reaching the predicted levels of participation far quicker than previous expansions,” he said. “Not sure we should be surprised by that given the scale and attention placed nationally on coverage, which is unprecedented.”

In the same committee meeting, some legislators were concerned that access to vision and dental care offered by one health insurance provider under the state’s “private option” program wasn’t equal across Arkansas. Residents in the northwest, central and west central regions of the state have been able to select health insurance plans from Ambetter that offered vision and dental care, while others located elsewhere couldn’t.

Ambetter is one of four health insurance providers in Arkansas for the state’s expanded Medicaid program. Amy Webb, spokeswoman for the state’s human services department, said 8,358 Arkansans have selected health insurance plans from Ambetter with dental and vision since March 30.

Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, said she wasn’t pleased that she didn’t learn about the difference in health insurance plans for vision and dental coverage during the Legislature’s fiscal session. State lawmakers had reauthorized the “private option” program in March.

Jay Bradford, the state’s insurance commissioner, said had he required the company - which had been new to Arkansas - to offer their health plans statewide they, “wouldn’t have come at all.”

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