Arkansas Medicaid expansion plan — similar to TN proposal — wins fed approval

An AP story, as appearing in the Chattanooga TFP:
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas has become the first state to win federal approval to use Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance for thousands of low-income residents under the federal health care law, a proposal similar to one offered by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Friday approved the state’s request to implement a “private option” plan.

The state’s Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic governor approved the plan earlier this year as an alternative to expanding Medicaid’s enrollment under the federal health care law. Arkansas formally submitted its request to the federal government last month.

Tennessee is among several other states considering similar ideas as an alternative to expanding Medicaid, and supporters of the president’s health overhaul have pointed to Arkansas as a Republican-trending state that is implementing the law

From a Washington Post blog on the “weird trick” Arkansas’ plan involves:
Arkansas will be the only state in the country that will use Medicaid dollars to purchase private health insurance for its new public program enrollees.

“CMS is pleased to approve Arkansas’s Medicaid 1115 Waiver application,” Medicare spokeswoman Emma Sandoe said in a statement. “Arkansas and CMS worked together to find flexibilities that gave the state the tools to build a program that worked for them and their residents. We appreciate the collaboration with Arkansas throughout the process and applaud their commitment to providing Arkansans with access to high-quality health coverage.”

There are about 200,000 Arkansans who qualify for the Medicaid expansion. Instead of having them enroll in the public program, like other states will do, Arkansas will send them to their new health insurance marketplace to buy individual plans. When they get to the point of purchase, the Medicaid agency will foot the tab for their health insurance coverage.

The Arkansas expansion will start open enrollment just five days from now, on Oct. 1, alongside the 25 other states planning to expand the program. Benefits will begin Jan. 1.

News release from Arkansas governor’s office:
LITTLE ROCK – Governor Mike Beebe received a call Friday morning from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius informing him that the Medicaid waiver request, which is needed to implement the Arkansas Private Option, has received official federal approval.

“Arkansas came up with its own plan to expand Medicaid using the private-insurance market, and Secretary Sebelius and her team worked to ensure that we had the flexibility to make that plan a reality,” Governor Beebe said. “Our actions have drawn positive attention from across the country, and now we will focus on getting this insurance to the Arkansans who need it to lead healthier, more productive lives. Hopefully, this bipartisan, intergovernmental achievement can be an example for Congress as the government shutdown looms.”

The Arkansas Private Option will use federal Medicaid funds to provide insurance-premium assistance to more than 200,000 Arkansans living near or below the Federal Poverty Line. It is part of the State’s Health Insurance Marketplace, which becomes active on October 1st. Arkansans can get information and personalized help through the Arkansas Health Connector, available online at arhealthconnector.org, or by calling