Arkansas Insurance Exchange Enrolls First Small Business

Oct 28, 2015

File photo of Cheryl Gardner, Executive Director Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace Board and board member Mike Castleberry speaking to a legislative committee earlier this year.
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

The Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) that provides insurance for small business employees is ready to launch Nov. 1 and has already enrolled its first employer, officials announced Wednesday.

At the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace’s Little Rock headquarters, Jim Miles, president of Jonesboro-based insurance broker Covenant Medical Benefits, said his company had enrolled eight employees quickly and easily.

“Simply put, it works,” he said.

AHIM manages the SHOP exchange, which was created by the federal Affordable Care Act for small businesses employees to purchase health insurance online. Until the creation of the SHOP, those Arkansans have purchased insurance through, the federally operated exchange. Enrollment begins Nov. 1.

The SHOP serves small businesses with 2-50 employees, a number set by state law. A Small Business Health Care Tax Credit is available for employers with fewer than 25 full-time-equivalent employees with average salaries of $50,000 or less.

With the SHOP, Arkansas is taking over responsibility for the small business portion of the exchange, which currently enrolls about 200 individuals. AHIM is also considering whether the state should manage the individual marketplace exchange, which has enrolled about 65,000. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has questioned if the state should operate its own exchange and asked AHIM to pause its efforts in that regard, which it has done.

AHIM Executive Director Cheryl Smith Gardner said AHIM doesn’t have a projected number of enrollees for the SHOP. “It starts with the policy, right? We will be as successful as our policies are in terms of enrollment,” she said.

AHIM Director of Operations John Norman demonstrated the system’s web portal during a presentation today. Employers, employees and agent/brokers can view options at He said the plan was designed to be simple and easy to use.

The SHOP has been created through a three-year, $7.2 million contract with Virginia-based information technology provider hCentive, paid for as part of a $99.9 million federal grant to AHIM. So far, about $1.5 million has been paid to the company. The system has been tested over the past two months.

“You hear about so many other technology – especially with respect to health care – so many other technology projects where they spend just insane amounts of money; they don’t ever get any proven functionality of it; they become very controversial,” said Gardner. “We wanted to be the antithesis of that, and we think we are. In fact, we are. We don’t just think we are. We know we are.”

More than 100 agents and brokers have been trained to use the system. A contact center will be open Sunday, Nov. 1, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., and then will be open regularly during those same hours Monday through Friday. The phone number is 844.952.9522.