This week, members learned more about where we stand on the biggest issue that was before us during the recent legislative session. That is the implementation of the Health Care Independence Act, also known as the "private option."

Dr. Andy Allison, the director of Medical Services with the Department of Human Services addressed the Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee. Allison stated that we are still on target to begin enrolling qualifying Arkansans in a private insurance plan which will be paid for using Medicaid dollars.

The federal centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is currently reviewing our state’s request for a waiver. Once approved, coverage will begin Jan. 1, 2014.

Although enrollment will not begin until October, right now you can begin to shop and compare health insurance plans through the Health Insurance Marketplace at

The Health Care Independence Act allows federal dollars to pay the entire cost of premiums for any individual or family making below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. But even if you make above that amount the marketplace can still help you to chose a plan that is right for you and your family and may offer other financial assistance depending on income.

Although the federal government announced that states may delay income verification for another year, our state will proceed with income verification this year. The Marketplace will use electronic data from the IRS and the Social Security Administration to verify income to determine eligibility.

The major goals of the private option were to improve access to quality care, offset negative impacts to businesses facing tax penalties, and help reduce our growing Medicaid roles.

We also learned this week that even before the implementation of this act, we are making substantial progress in reducing our Medicaid costs. Our latest Medicaid report shows we have had the slowest growth rate in expenses in over 30 years.

We have posted that report along with more information about the private option on our website at