Plenty Of Young Arkansans Choose Private Option, says DHS

Jan 16, 2014

Some enrollees for Arkansas's 'Private Option' version of Medicaid Expansion found they were eligible after applying for coverage through the federally-run website,

The Arkansas Department of Human Services says a significant number of younger adults are enrolling in the state’s private option. It allows people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($15,850 for an individual) to receive subsidized private health coverage using federal money devoted to Medicaid. Andy Allison, state Medicaid director, says its no surprise younger people are qualifying for the private option, since they tend to earn less.

“It's also true—and I don't expect this to last—that the private option is...80 percent of the Arkansas Marketplace at this point,” Allison says. “We think it will be closer to half and half over time. But the net result of those two is that the private option is lowering the median age of that marketplace by as much as a decade or more.”

A majority of enrollees in the private option signed up through a notice the DHS mailed to current participants in assistance programs, like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP. Others signed up by applying for coverage at the federally-run website, Allison notes that his agency is seeing a growing number of sign-ups directed from the federal website.

Allison says the influx of private option enrollees, especially younger ones, should help keep premiums low for other marketplace enrollees.

“Costs—and health costs—are spread evenly across all participants. That's where those premiums come from. And private option participants are treated no differently in that calculation than other participants in the Marketplace. And so if the age profile is favorable, which it is, then that will have a spillover and very positive impact on non-private option participants in the Marketplace,” he says.

About 64,872 people who qualify for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act have signed up for the private option as of January 2, with over half of those under the age of 40. About 13,000 Arkansans who don’t qualify for Medicaid have signed up for health coverage through the federally-run Health Insurance Marketplace.

The demographic breakdown of the 64,872 private option enrollees as provided by the DHS:

-16,923 between the ages 18-29

-19,669 between the ages 30-39

-13,904 between the ages 40-49

-11,432 between 50-59

-2,944 over age 60

Under the state's Medicaid expansion plan, people with exceptional health needs are allowed to sign up for traditional Medicaid. According to the DHS, an additional 6,706 Arkansans have signed up for that plan.