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Could new health insurance plans be coming?


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Old 12-22-2006, 03:11 PM
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It looks like Arkansas is stepping up to help the small businesses in it's state. How does this compare with what your state offers?

Melvin and Alicia Taylor, owners of a landscaping business in Benton, Ark., were the first to sign up for a pilot program designed to help hundreds of small business owners in the state offer basic health insurance to their employees.

Enrollment began Dec. 20 for ARHealthNet, which will target businesses with fewer than 500 employees that have not offered health care coverage in at least a year prior to enrollment.

When fully implemented, about 80,000 people could be enrolled, said Department of Health and Human Services Director John Selig. During the first 18 months, however, there can be a maximum of only 15,000 enrollees.

The state and federal government, along with the employer and employee will share the cost, with the state's portion, about $18 million over five years, coming from proceeds from the state's tobacco settlement fund.

"What this package does is it enables people to have a very basic, fundamental level of coverage that gets them access to doctors and hospital stays in a reasonable timely cost," Gov. Mike Huckabee said during a news conference at the state Capitol.

"We believe this is one of the most important things to happen to small businesses, but more importantly, for the working men and women in Arkansas for a long, long time," Huckabee said.

Most working Arkansans are employed by small companies. Nearly half of all Arkansas employees work for companies that employ fewer than 100 people, and less than 30 percent of companies with fewer than 50 workers offer insurance, the governor said.

About 378,000 working Arkansans have no health insurance.

"It doesn't mean that they can't get some kind of health assistance," Huckabee said. "It means they are not covered, and that means that if they do end up going to the hospital, it's generally later than they should and they'll have to take whatever care they can get. It's also going to cost a whole lot more, not only to them, but also the other people in the healthcare system because of the cost of waiting and delaying treatment means typically that what is being treated is far more expensive."

The program's basic benefits package includes six physician visits a year and two prescriptions a month. Enrollees will be required to pay a $15 monthly premium and 15 percent co-payments, with a maximum out-of-pocket cost of $1,000 per year.

Employers will contribute $15 a month for each employee with income less than twice the poverty level and $100 a month for higher-income workers.

Cost to participate in the program will vary from about $30 to $300 per month for each employee, based on employee income and the number of dependents, Selig said.

"This is really focused on those businesses that have never been able to offer health insurance to their employees," Selig said.

Dr. Joe Thompson, the state's chief health officer, said that if the program "is not meeting the needs of the critical gap, we'll modify it to try and meet the small business needs."

Melvin Taylor, who along with his wife, Alicia, owns Manicured Lawns by Alicia, said they have not able to afford health insurance for themselves or the business. With the ability to now have the insurance, the company will be able hire some full-time employees, he said.

By Arkansas News Bureau
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