Arkansas Promotes Worker Health Coverage Plan

July 11, 2007

Employees of small businesses in Arkansas who have had to go without health insurance will be able to get basic coverage under a new plan underwritten by the state and federal government.

As many as 50,000 Arkansans could benefit, officials said in announcing the new plan.

Standing in a warehouse at a Pine Bluff factory that is covered under the plan, officials said ARHealthNet could bridge the gap many working poor families face when trying to receive coverage. The plan, subsidized for employees whose families make under $40,000 a year, provides coverage for six doctor visits, seven inpatient hospital days, two major outpatient services a year, as well as filling two prescriptions a month.

“People who are uninsured in Arkansas by and large are employed,” said John Selig, director of the state’s Department of Human Services. “They’re not people sitting around there, wishing somebody would give them money and health insurance, they are out there working one or two or three jobs and can’t get insurance for any of them or can’t afford the insurance that’s available for them.”

The program, administered by Little Rock-based company NovaSys Health, will be paid for by $2 million out of the state’s tobacco settlement fund, as well as $10 million of federal money a year. Companies employing between two to 500 people that haven’t offered health coverage for employees for a year will be eligible for the program.

The state would cover more than 80 percent of enrollment costs, with the rest borne by the company or the eligible employee.

Selig stressed the program wouldn’t exclude employees with pre-existing medical conditions, something he said private insurers did routinely. However, he acknowledged the program couldn’t be used to cover “catastrophic health care” – such as major operations or other medical emergencies.

“What we’re offering is not some Cadillac package,” Selig said. “It covers 90 percent of what most people need. And for most people, you just need a little bit of coverage to kind of get over the hump – to not end up losing your job or going bankrupt or all of those terrible things that can happen.”

The program began Jan. 1 and allows the state to bring in up to 15,000 employees. On Oct. 1, 2008, the cap will end and the state will be able to bring up to 50,000 into the program.

Since its start, the program has drawn in 200 companies with a total of nearly 700 employees, Selig said. Part of the slow start came from NovaSys and the state working out final details of the program, printing out enrollment cards and getting pharmacies to recognize the coverage, said Dwane Tankersley, NovaSys’ sales director.

At Pine Bluff’s Quest Corp., which makes pipe-bending machines and mechanic lifts for automobiles, 21 of the company’s 31 employees are covered under ARHealthNet, company president Ron Powell said. He said the company dropped health care coverage in 2003, as premiums skyrocketed.

Though the plan doesn’t cover everything, plant manager Robert Clement applauded the coverage, saying his employees likely would skip the doctor until it was too late.

“By the time they go to the doctor, it is catastrophic,” Clement said. “It ends up costing all of us.”

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