LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Several Arkansas advocacy groups announced Tuesday they were partnering to promote enrollment options through the federal health care law, saying they hoped to help fill the void left by legislation blocking the state from funding similar efforts.
The groups announced a new coalition, Arkansans for Coverage, to focus on helping people connect with the health insurance marketplace and the expanded Medicaid program created under the federal health overhaul. The coalition is being funded by a $300,000 grant from the Fred Darragh Foundation, and officials said they hoped to secure more private funding for the initiative.
"In order for Arkansans to be aware of and enroll in new affordable health care options in Arkansas, they first need to know it exists," said Rich Huddleston, director of Arkansans Advocates for Children and Families, one of the groups involved in the coalition. "That's why effective outreach and public education is so important to this effort."
The coalition was created in response to the Legislature barring state agencies from spending public money to promote enrollment in the federal health law. The restriction was included as a compromise to win support for reauthorizing the state's "private option" Medicaid expansion. Created as an alternative to the expansion envisioned by the federal health law, the program is using federal funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents.
More than 194,000 people have enrolled in the private option. Another 38,787 people have purchased policies through the insurance exchange set up under the health law.
The legislation restricting promotion of the law meant that the state ended its contract June 30 with 500 in-person "assisters" who were hired to help people enroll for coverage under the overhaul. The coalition said part of its effort will include hiring four assisters across the state, and will also set up a network to help assisters funded by other groups. It also planned to use social media to help promote enrollment options.
Matthew Glass, an insurance agent from West Memphis, said he regularly encounters people who didn't know about the coverage options offered under the law.
"There's no reason we shouldn't be able to get everybody covered if everybody knows about it," Glass said.
The other groups in the coalition are Arkansas Hospital Association, the Arkansas Interfaith Alliance, the Arkansas Minority Health Consortium, Partners for Inclusive Communities, and Community Health Centers of Arkansas.
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