A joint effort of non-governmental organizations under the name Arkansans For Coverage launched an effort Tuesday to help people enroll in health care plans made available through the Affordable Care Act. Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families is among five groups in the joint effort to assist with navigating the health insurance marketplace or exchange.
AACF Executive Director Rich Huddleston said a vote by the state legislature earlier this year blocking state-funded outreach efforts makes this effort necessary.
“Many of the assisters that were previously funded through public monies have gone away because of lack of funding. Now there is this big gap in terms of being able to get the word out about what’s available and how folks can get enrolled whether it’s through the Marketplace or the private option,” said Huddleston.
He said since the health care reforms are relatively new, providing assistance at this juncture is critical.
“People are much more likely to complete the enrollment process if they have help. If you can get them help then most people will finish it and will get coverage. But going through the process is not necessarily easy so giving them help to learn about the program and get enrolled is critical for the state,” said Huddleston.
Arkansans For Coverage will operate out of four sites in the state with a budget about $300,000 Huddleston said that’s far below the millions of dollars that would have been available if opponents of reforms in the state legislature had not blocked outreach efforts. The program is not intended to be long-term and Huddleson wants the state to reexamine the ban on state funds promoting enrollment.
The legislature’s vote blocking public money from going toward in-person assistance, direct mail and advertisements was part of a compromise intended to gain conservative votes to help re-authorize the private option earlier this year. Republican state Representative Nate Bell of Mena authored the amendment and also hoped banning the funds would lead to fewer enrollments in government-backed healthcare programs.