Things Arkansans should know as open enrollment under Affordable Care Act begins Saturday

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Tens of thousands of Arkansans are expected to take part in the open enrollment period under the federal Affordable Care Act that begins this weekend.

Open enrollment begins Saturday and lasts until Feb. 15. Residents can enroll in the health marketplace and renew or change their plan options during this period. The state says more than 44,000 residents enrolled in the health care marketplace for 2014 plans.

The nonprofit Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, which is leading the effort to inform residents about the health care law and the open enrollment period, estimates that tens of thousands of people will sign up in the marketplace during the second annual enrollment period.

The federal government estimates that 7.1 million Americans have enrolled in the health care marketplace.

Key things to know about the Affordable Care Act open enrollment:


ENROLLEES:

For 2014, some 44,160 people enrolled in marketplace plans in Arkansas, according to the Arkansas Insurance Department. There were 211,000 Medicaid-eligible consumers in the Arkansas-specific "private option" form of Medicaid expansion through Sept. 30, according to the Arkansas Department of Human Services. Under that plan, Arkansas uses federal Medicaid money to purchase private health insurance for low-income residents. Of the 211,000 eligible, 204,811 completed enrollment. The figures include some who were enrolled in the traditional Medicaid program, according to the state agencies.

Sarah Pearce, health care policy fellow at the nonprofit Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, estimates that tens of thousands of residents will enroll in the marketplace this time.


THE RED-STATE CATCH:

One hitch in promoting enrollment is that the Arkansas Insurance Department no longer has authority to spend federal grant funds for outreach, said Seth Blomeley, with the insurance department. The restriction was added earlier this year by the Legislature.


MAKING THE PITCH:

Even with those limitations, groups such as Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families are still trying to get the word out about open enrollment through websites, and Facebook and Twitter accounts, Pearce said. Other groups, such as the Arkansas Hospital Association, are assisting.


WORKING OUT THE KINKS:

Both state officials and nonprofits are hoping the technical kinks that plagued the initial enrollment process have been worked out at HealthCare.gov. Blomeley says Arkansas is supplementing information for consumers by posting plan comparison information on the department's website.


COST SAVINGS:

State insurance officials estimate the average premium for marketplace plans will drop by roughly 2 percent in 2015, although officials say some premiums could drop even more or increase. Potential enrollees can go on HealthCare.gov to view premiums for 2015 without creating an account or logging in.


NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS:

So far, complaints among marketplace enrollees have been few, and state officials say they aren't aware of major hiccups. Marquita Little, health policy director at the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, says it's too soon to perform a more detailed analysis of what went well and what failed because the federal health care law is still too new.

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