HHS Approves Arkansas Waiver for Health Insurance Program
As expected, HHS officials on Tuesday approved a waiver to allow Arkansas to receive federal Medicaid funds for a program that will provide low-cost health insurance to small businesses, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.
The program first will target businesses with 50 or fewer employees and will require employers that participate to guarantee coverage for all workers, regardless of income or other factors, with the exception of those who have coverage though their spouses. Employers must not have provided health insurance to employees for 12 consecutive months to qualify for the program (Smith/Baskin, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 3/8).
Under the program, employers must pay $15 monthly for employees with annual incomes less than 200% of the poverty level and $100 monthly for higher-income employees. Employees who participate in the program must pay annual deductibles of $100 and 15% of the cost of services, with maximum out-of-pocket costs of $1,000 annually.
The program each year will cover six physician visits, seven days of inpatient hospital care and two outpatient hospital procedures or emergency department visits, as well as two prescriptions monthly (California Healthline, 3/7). The program will not provide catastrophic coverage.
The state will fund the program in part with $18 million in proceeds from the 1998 national tobacco settlement over the next five years. The federal government will pay 82 cents of each dollar spent by the state for employees with children and 73 cents of each dollar spent for those without children.
Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) said, "We're not announcing today perfection. We're not announcing today a safety net that covers everything for all time for all people. But we are announcing a significant safety net for what could be up to 80,000 Arkansans per year" (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 3/8).