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Rural Health Centers Concerned With Possible Cuts

Officials with Community Health Centers in Arkansas told legislators Thursday the waiver the state plans to submit to Washington D.C could result in centers closing.
LITTLE ROCK, AR - Officials with Community Health Centers in Arkansas told legislators Thursday the waiver the state plans to submit to Washington D.C could result in centers closing.

The waiver is part of what the Arkansas Department of Human Services has to submit to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to receive approval for the "private option" plan approved by the general assembly earlier this year.

Under the private option, up to 200,000 in Arkansas without coverage would receive health insurance made possible by the passage of the Federal Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. 

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in 2012, but gave states the option whether to expand Medicaid coverage.  The federal government pays for the expansion until 2017, when states begin footing a percentage of the cost, capping out at 10% in 2020.

Rather than expand a government health insurance program, legislators here passed the "private option" by taking the influx of federal dollars and placing recipients on private carriers.

One of the stipulations Arkansas is asking for from the feds in the private option is to allow rural health providers to be paid by Medicaid at whatever rate is established by private health care providers.

Community health centers believe the rate will be at 1/3 less than centers receive now, and because the centers are non-profit and operate on thin margins, any loss of funding could result in closure of some health centers.

DHS director John Selig says that is not the intent of the legislation.

"One of the things we want to do is to make sure they're not unduly harmed by this," Selig says.  "So we're going to look at ways to do that, kind of put some protections in place for them."

DHS held three public hearings for the Medicaid waiver earlier this month.

Selig says the 30-day public comment period just expired with 400 letters received, but only 20 unique comments about the waiver.

DHS will submit the waiver to federal health officials on August 2nd.

The Arkansas Insurance Department is currently running advertisements on television, radio and print encouraging those without coverage to begin signing up October 1st.
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