- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The state program that provides private insurance to poor Arkansas residents will see a 2 percent decrease in premium costs next year, the governor’s office said Tuesday.

Final numbers for the premiums are to be set prior to the start of open enrollment on Nov. 15, after the U.S. Health and Human Services Department certifies the private insurance plans for 2015.

Insurance under the “private option” is subsidized for more than 170,000 people in Arkansas under an expansion of the federal Medicaid program, which was approved by the Legislature last year.

The governor’s office said it released the projection of lower costs for next year because incomplete information was inadvertently posted on the Insurance Department’s website.

“While not drastically different from actual projections, the posting was still not an accurate representation of the actuarial data,” the release stated.

Opponents of the program say it’s is an expansion of government spending and that it imposes President Barack Obama’s health overhaul, to which they object.

Sen. David Sanders, R-Little Rock, a private option supporter, said he’s confident the program will be renewed when the General Assembly convenes in a regular session in January.

Sanders said Arkansas’ program, which has lower-income residents pay part of the premium costs, broke new ground in health policy by not simply adding more people to the Medicaid rolls.

“It’s attributable to the fact that we have a program that departs from a decades-old practice relegating people who are in poverty to the Medicaid program. We believe that poor people can function in private insurance markets,” Sanders said.

Policyholders tend to be young and healthy, Sanders noted.

That market, that population has never existed in private insurance markets in this country,” Sanders said.

Sanders said he’d be concerned about the future of the program if costs were spiraling upward. But he said the first two years of the program appear to be coming in at or under budget.

“That’s significant,” he said.

The governor’s office said the projection of a 2 percent decline in costs is for the overall program. Some policyholders may see slight increases, while others will see their premiums stay the same or decline slightly.

Insurance costs historically rise by six-to-ten percent annually, the governor’s release noted.

“This is fundamentally different with regard to public policy in this country,” Sanders said.


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