Local non-profits are concerned about ensuring that Arkansans have access to good information about new health care options under the Affordable Care Act. They have reason to worry, after the Arkansas legislature blocked federal grants for outreach and the amendment to the private option from Rep. Nate Bell banned any state appropriations for outreach on the private option or the rest of the ACA-created Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace in fiscal year 2015. Groups including the Harmony Clinic, Living Affected and Arkansas Voices met this afternoon at the Main Library in downtown Little Rock to discuss their efforts to enroll uninsured Arkansans. 

Enrollment in the private option has been strong thus far, with more than 220,000 applications (of whom 144,358 have thus far been deemed eligible) through March 14. However, non-private option enrollment in the Marketplace has lagged, with less than 30,000 people signed up through the end of February (that’s people who make more than 138 percent of the federal poverty level, many of them eligible for generous subsidies on the Marketplace).  


In a release earlier this morning, Eddie Pannell, the executive director of the Harmony Clinic, suggested that groups might look in to trying to redirect federal grant money to non-profits rather than routing them through the state (which is banned from spending the money on outreach). Here’s Pannell: 

With the March 31st enrollment deadline approaching quickly I am concerned more could have been done to enroll the hundred of thousands of poor Arkansans needing coverage.

Especially those who need assistance in enrolling but are faced with set-backs from our Legislature who has made it clear that no state or federal funds can be used by state agencies i.e.: AR Insurance Department or other such agencies to continue the enrollment assistance process past May 31st.

I think we need to find out if the federal grant money that could have been given to the state to be used to keep the 500 In-Person Assistants employed and helping over 100,000 poor Arkansans not yet enrolled in the Medicaid expansion can be applied to non-profits here.

We are now looking for information on funding to continue the much needed assistance to enroll poor Arkansans and will continue to do our best to give affordable access to quality medical care at no cost to these patients, but we need help.

As a matter of state law, there’s not much the legislature can do to stop outside entities from doing their own outreach (though the in-person assistants offering direct help with the sign-up process — positions that will be terminated come July by the Bell amendment — do have to be licensed by the state). The question is how outreach will be funded. It’s not clear whether federal rules would allow the grants in question to be given to entities other than the state, but this is worth keeping an eye on…


After the jump, the press release from the groups that met today: 

LITTLE ROCK, AR- The members of various non-profit organizations met Monday afternoon to discuss issues they have seen while trying to get uninsured Arkansans enrolled in the Affordable Care Act.

Topics during the discussion ranged from health insurance literacy, to stories of real people they have met along the way. Stories of elderly people who had not been to a doctor for a check-up since high school, said Cornelius
Mavin with The Living Affected Corporation, “We were able to see the people’s faces who wept when they finally got coverage.” Mavin added he was personally able to get people signed up who were seeking coverage in order to set-up preventative care appointments.

Dee Ann Newell, with Arkansas Voices, shared that she believed the original reason for the Affordable Care Act was no longer getting the attention it deserved,“It was because the cost of health care rising so rapidly,” she said. “People were unable to afford it.”

Both representatives said the number of people they set-out to help enroll, and the reality of how many they reached, was greatly disproportionate. “We need to create a more caring community,” said Mavin who added, “It’s hard to know so many fellow Arkansans are working hard but are still struggling.”

Eddie Pannell, the executive director of the Harmony Clinic of Central Arkansas, said he is concerned with funding issues moving forward. A concern that was echoed by the others, “We need to be thoughtful of how we are going to continue without this funding moving forward,” said Newell. “We need to be able to sustain it and make it work.”