Five Insurance Companies Sign up for Arkansas Health Benefits Exchange

Five insurance companies submitted letters of intent to participate in Arkansas forthcoming health benefits exchanges, according to the Arkansas Insurance Department.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arkansas, Celtic/Novasys, QualChoice of Arkansas, and national Blue Cross Blue Shield met a Monday, June 3 deadline to announce their plans to bid for the state’s insurance exchange, known as the Health Insurance Marketplace (HIM). United Security Life and Health Insurance Co. submitted a letter of intent after the deadline, but insurance officials said they would extend the period to later in the month allowing United to qualify.

The exchange service is an outcome of the federal health care law, which requires states to set up an online marketplace to allow consumers to shop for health insurance plans. The federal law and a new state plan known as the “private option” are expected to steer more than 500,000 Arkansans into the exchange services to receive standard plans or subsidized insurance.

“I am pleased with the level of participation the insurance service industry continues to show,” said Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford. “It has always been my desire, and in the best interest of the Arkansas consumer, to have as much competition and companies as possible on the Health Insurance Marketplace.”

Along with their intent to participate, these companies submitted their planned service areas for 2014 which will be reviewed for adequacy. The Arkansas Healthcare Independence Act of 2013 requires that consumers in each of Arkansas’s 75 counties have a choice among at least two health insurance companies.

Exchange Planning Director Cynthia Crone said, “We are encouraged with this response to the new Marketplace and anticipate the competition will keep premium prices low for all Arkansans.”

Open enrollment for the HIM begins Oct. 1, 2013, and continues until March 31, 2014.

Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison, the House chairman of the Public Health committee and a main architect of the state’s private option plan, said he’s “very satisfied” in the number of participants.

“Our major goal for controlling costs was increasing carrier competition. We’ve doubled the number of participating companies in year one. That’s a good start,” Burris said.

He also expects other insurance companies may eventually enter the Arkansas market.
“Coventry Healthcare was just bought out by Aetna,” Burris said. “And United Healthcare has always said that it may wait a year before participating.”

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