Arkansans seeking insurance through the federal Affordable Care Act will have less time to enroll this year compared to previous years.
The Trump Administration has shortened the sign-up period to 45 days, cut the advertising budget for the federal program, and pulled cost-sharing payments to insurers. KUAR’s David Monteith interviewed Bruce Donaldson, Navigator Outreach Manager for the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace about the impact of those changes during this open enrollment period in Arkansas.
NAVIGATOR OUTREACH MANAGER BRUCE DONALDSON: Beginning November 1 through December 15 – it’s a shorter period this year than in the past years. So there’s only 45 days for open enrollment. That’s the time that you can go in and enroll in a plan for a January 1,  effective date. However, at Healthcare.gov they do have a tool that you can go on-line right now and it’s right there. It’s in a green box and you can look at these plans, what it’ll cost. And by you putting in your household size, your age, and your estimated income you can see exactly how much help you may or may not get in paying those premiums. So it’s like a preview tool before November 1.
DAVID MONTEITH: What are you doing, and your staff doing in preparation for Wednesday?
We, being a state-based exchange, we’ve contracted with navigators, two navigator groups out in Arkansas, so there’ll 11 navigator individuals out there helping consumers enroll in plans and they have an outreach plan where they’re going to maximize what they do with the 45 days, the shortened enrollment period. And also I’m involved in training and licensing agents to become exchange producers or renew their licenses as well as certified application counselors and IPA [Individual Practice Association] guides are out there as well. There’s probably approximately about 1,500 assisters out in the marketplace helping people enroll. A consumer can simply, if they need help, can go to our website – that’s myarinsurance.com – and up on the top right you can click on “Find help.” You put in your zip code and lists of all the closest assisters that can help you enroll in a plan.
I assume you’ve been preparing for this for month at least and there have been some recent changes in directives, for example, the slashing of the advertising budget and the recent announcement about the reduction in the cost-sharing payments from the federal level. How has that impacted your preparations for Wednesday?
We anticipated that and we have money to put into advertising. We will use all sorts of media: paid, earned media, tv, print, social media to get the word out. Commercials that we’ve produced as well, so we are going to be doing that ourselves throughout the state of Arkansas. Have they started to rollout or will they begin on November 1? They’re beginning now, but, yes, they’ll be in full force November 1. They’ll be all over Arkansas.
Have you seen any Arkansas insurers talk about pulling out, especially after the removal of the cost-sharing payments?
No, sir. All three carriers are remaining in the same regions that they were before, so everything is the same as it was last year, so I don’t anticipate any problems, no.
Bruce, obviously I know a little bit about this, but not even enough to ask the great questions. Is there something you think folks should know that I haven’t thought to ask about?
We were at the [Arkansas State Fair] meeting with a lot of folks, a lot of consumers, and I can tell you a couple of questions that they ask is ‘Can I afford this?’ or ‘Will it cover my pre-existing conditions?’ and so I’ll start with the second.
As far as pre-existing conditions, these plans are guarantee issues so they cover everything from day one that you’re covered. So there’s not any worry about pre-existing conditions, but that’s why there’s an open enrollment so you have to get coverage during the open enrollment to get full coverage starting January 1.
The other one, ‘Is it affordable?’ That’s all based on the size of your household, your income, and like I mentioned before at the beginning of this interview, they can go on healthcare.gov and preview plans, put in their information and get a pretty good estimate as to how much premium they’ll pay and how much help they’ll get with tax credits to make it affordable to them.