Saturday, July 21, 2007

ARHealthNet for Low Income Workers

Giving up on the Bush Administration to do anything about health care costs, Arkansas has a new insurance plan for small businesses called ARHealthNet. The goal is to make health coverage affordable for more people who live on low incomes. It’s estimated that 17 percent of the state’s population have no health insurance coverage of any kind. There are more than 378, 000 people of working age — between 19 and 64 — who lack coverage. Workers in large companies except for Wal-Mart tend to be covered, while people who work for small firms are the most likely to lack coverage. ARHealthNet is for employees of companies with fewer than 500 workers.

The benefits are limited, to better hold down costs. They include six doctor visits a year, seven inpatient days in a hospital and two outpatient days for things like major surgeries and emergency room services. Benefits also include two prescriptions a month. If a low-income worker required catastrophic care beyond the major services covered under ARHealthNet, it is likely the state Medicaid program would help, according to the director of the state Human Services Department. Research has proven that people without health insurance tend to postpone going to the doctor when they are sick. As a result, when they finally do seek medical help their problems have become more severe and more expensive to treat. Also, people without insurance are much less likely to visit the doctor for routine preventative care such as an annual physical or a cancer screening.

People without insurance — whether they’re in good health and neglect routine prevention or whether they’re ill and put off going to the doctor — are much more likely to be hospitalized with avoidable illnesses. That drives up the cost of health care and results in higher costs for people who do have insurance. Therefore, a secondary benefit of ARHealthNet is to help hold down costs for people who have insurance.

When a company signs up for ARHealthNet, all full-time employees must participate; however, the government will help pay for coverage of workers who make low wages. The subsidies will be for workers who earn less than 200 percent of the poverty level, which depends on the number of people in the worker’s family. For an employee with a family of four, the threshold is $3,441 a month. So far, only 178 small businesses have signed up for ARHealthNet and only 665 workers have gained coverage under the new program. The Chamber of Commerce should be promoting participation in the new plan instead of trying to keep wages and workers compensation benefits so low.

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