Health care reform kicks in, feels good 

The partisan political battle over the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or whatever pejorative term the bill's opponents want to call it, is over. But you wouldn't really know that from the still-angry rhetoric being spouted by the bill's many detractors. Republican presidential hopefuls talk about plans to repeal health reform even though the proverbial frontrunner instituted a similar system in his home state.

Friday marks two years since President Obama signed the health reform bill into law and since then some, but not yet all, of the benefits have started to reach Joe Public. Children cannot be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition. Young people can stay on their parents' health insurance plan until they are 26 years old. Preventive services, which will ultimately help control health care costs, have been added to some plans at no extra charge. Those are real changes — which can have a huge, positive impact on people's lives — that have nothing to do with petty attempts to pin a seemingly unpopular program to the president right before election time.

Take these things away, and folks are likely to notice. A lot of folks. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Affordable Care Act has had the following impact on Arkansans: 865,000 people who already had private insurance no longer have a lifetime limit on their health insurance plans; 439,000 people received added preventive services from their insurance companies without cost-sharing (that's including 110,000 children); 380,845 Medicare recipients have received preventive services; 23,837 young people have acquired health care coverage by staying on their parents' plans.

Those are real benefits. In this small state, chances are you know at least one of those people. Your little cousin who has a genetic disorder won't be kicked off of, or denied access to, a health plan simply because he was born a certain way. Your friend with chronic back pain no longer has to worry about reaching an arbitrary dollar limit that could negatively impact his coverage and his health.

And that's just what's happened so far. The act won't be fully implemented until 2014.

Of course, there is still the question of the Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments on the law next week, and will likely render a decision on its constitutionality later in the summer. Opponents of the law are actively rooting against it. Lawmakers in Arkansas thought that the Supreme Court declaring unconstitutional the part of the law that required people to buy insurance was such a sure bet that they decided to pass on letting the state take full control of developing a health care exchange – the marketplace through which people will purchase private health insurance. The state is now working in a partnership with the federal government, the only one of its kind so far.

Polling indicates the public is getting past the politics of health reform. The more people learn about parts of the law that have gone into effect, and about the exchange, the more they support it. Efforts to put together an exchange in Arkansas are already underway. Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford, along with his staff and other interested parties, are working out the details as we speak. A ruling on the mandate could change how all that shakes out, but it won't roll back the popular provisions already in place.

Mandate or no, people aren't going to want to see the new protections taken away. The important thing to ensure moving forward is that Arkansas has a health care system that protects children and families and a big part of that is going to mean keeping as much of the Affordable Care Act in place as possible.

Gerard Matthews is the communications director for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. He is a former associate editor of the Arkansas Times.

Speaking of Affordable Care Act

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    July 2, 2014
    The Arkansas Insurance Department today announced that five companies plan to sell health insurance plans on the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace in 2015, the second year for the regulated marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act. The issuers that have filed are Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, the national multi-state Blue Cross Blue Shield, Celtic Insurance Company (selling in Arkansas as Ambetter), and two companies owned by the parent company QualChoice Holdings: QualChoice Life and Health Insurance Company, Inc. and QCH Health Plan Inc. /more/
  • Picking apart the teachers' insurance "fix" just approved by the legislature

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  • State-appropriated funding for Obamacare guides ends; outreach will depend on private funding

    July 1, 2014
    Today, the first day of the new fiscal year, marks the end of state-appropriated funding for more than 500 outreach workers known as In-Person Assistant (IPA) guides, charged with education, outreach, and enrollment help for the new insurance options available under the Affordable Care Act. The Arkansas Insurance Department has closed contracts with the 27 organizations tasked with hiring and overseeing 537 guides throughout the state. The change comes because of an amendment to the private option adopted in last year's fiscal session. In some cases, workers will be laid off and those guide positions will simply end; in other cases, organizations may seek private funding to continue the guides' work or may continue to employ the guides themselves, adding the positions within their own scope of work. /more/
  • Tom Cotton declines to take stance on state minimum wage and private option

    July 1, 2014
    At a press conference today, Rep. Tom Cotton declined to take positions on two big issues likely to get a lot of political attention in Arkansas in the coming months. He wouldn't say where he stood on the state minimum wage hike, saying he was going to focus on "what I can accomplish in Washington for Arkansas families" and continued to dodge questions about his stance on the private option. /more/
  • State officials announce details for planned health savings accounts and cost-sharing for private option

    June 17, 2014
    Lawmakers today got the first glimpse at details of the changes coming to the private option in 2015, including the creation of "Health Independence Accounts" and cost-sharing for beneficiaries below the poverty line. /more/
  • Bird poop and a parrot: Club for Growth goes after Pryor with misleading ad

    May 30, 2014
    The Club for Growth released an ad this week going after Sen. Mark Pryor on (what else?) Obamacare. The ad tries to tie Pryor to President Barack Obama’s much-maligned “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan” promise. The gimmick is a parrot: Obama is saying stuff, and Pryor is saying the same stuff! It's like he's parroting Obama! The thing is, Pryor didn't actually say what's implied in the ad. /more/
  • Eligibility verification not complete for nearly 5,000 private option beneficiaries; coverage will end May 31 until process is complete

    May 29, 2014
    A technical glitch led to almost 4,798 Arkansans gaining private option coverage prior to fully completing the eligibility verification process. The error was rooted in the way that the federal government submitted data from healthcare.gov to the state. These people have received letters from the Department of Human Services indicating that their private option coverage will end on May 31; in order to regain coverage, they must go back to healthcare.gov and complete the application process. /more/
  • More than 170,000 have gained coverage under private option; population continues to lean young

    May 27, 2014
    According to testimony today from the Arkansas Department of Human Services, 170,033 people through the end of April have been deemed eligible and gained coverage under the private option, the state's unique plan using Medicaid funds to purchase private health insurance for low-income Arkansans. This likely means that the policy has already made a significant reduction in the rate of uninsurance in the state. The private option has also made the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace as a whole significantly younger, which could help lead to lower premiums in the future. /more/
  • The private option and the Republican primaries

    May 20, 2014
    Roundup on the GOP primaries in which the private option played a heavy role: three private option supporters win, two go down, and one is heading to a runoff. And the Senate — where the margin for re-authorization is extremely tight — now appears to be one vote short. /more/
  • No, there is a not a "bailout" for the Arkansas private option

    May 19, 2014
    Apparently if you call something a “bailout,” people won’t like it! This is the approach taken in a piece on the private option posted earlier last week at Forbes, the third article Forbes has published in the last month or so criticizing the Arkansas plan. We take a look at some of their insinuations, and where things actually stand on the policy and politics of the private option. /more/
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