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More insurance carriers may enter Arkansas exchange

story from Talk Business, a TCW content partner

Arkansas Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford is satisfied that five companies have submitted letters of intent to do business in the state’s forthcoming health insurance exchange, but more may be on the way.

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.

Broader implementation of the federal health care law approved in 2009 – commonly referred to as Obamacare – will begin in October when states must provide a “marketplace” for consumers to shop for health insurance plans within Arkansas’ Health Insurance Marketplace (HIM). Enrollment in the HIM begins Oct. 1, and ends March 31, 2014.

An estimated 500,000 Arkansans are expected to gain health care insurance through Obamacare and Arkansas’ “private option” plan approved during the recent Legislative Session. The insurance plans range from plans on the books now to taxpayer-subsidized insurance.

The five insurance companies are vying for as many as 500,000 new insurance customers in Arkansas. Bradford said more carriers may be allowed to participate despite a recent deadline that passed for prospects.

“There’s the possibility that we may have a couple of others,” Bradford said. “We may have two more. ... We’re certainly welcoming them in.”

Bradford said one contributor to adding more insurance companies in the state’s exchange may come from a long-running federal employees health insurance exchange.

“There’s another system that’s in play with the Affordable Care Act. That’s the federal Office of Personnel. Federal employees have always had a menu of companies that they can choose, multiple companies that they can choose for their insurance. They’ve had an exchange for years and years and years,” he said.

Bradford said he is willing to allow those companies, and others, to join the Arkansas exchange.

“[Late entries] support the system. Consumers would benefit from that,” said Bradford. “I have some discretion in those areas. When it’s in the best interest of the consumers, I use that discretion.”

He said the next two to three weeks will be critical in the success of the HIM. His agency will be negotiating with the insurance companies submitting letters of intent.

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Every county must have at least two firms vying for business, but more than two firms could be competing in the different regions of the HIM.

Link here for the video interview with Bradford.

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