Insurance initiative aids only one small business

A program meant to help small businesses provide subsidized health insurance coverage to low-income employees has cost more than $1 million so far and helped just one business.

Part of the state’s Arkansas Works Medicaid program, the small-business initiative provides about $200 a month to subsidize the coverage for one employee of Shire Post Mint, a Springdale company that makes collectible coins associated with the Game of Thrones television show and other fantasy entertainment franchises.

Peggy Maringer, the company’s co-owner, said she decided to start offering coverage to her employees after watching one of them wait for months for word on whether his application for Medicaid coverage would be approved.

Threats by Republicans to repeal the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act were also a worry.

“I was just so concerned about coverage evaporating for everybody, I just wanted to get something in place,” she said.

The initiative is one of several changes to the state’s expanded Medicaid program that went into effect Jan. 1 and were intended to encourage enrollees to stay employed and take responsibility for their health care. An employee would have to qualify for Medicaid in order to take part. The initiative is separate from the health insurance exchange for small businesses.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson had wanted the small-business initiative to cover up to 75 percent of the cost of job-based insurance for employees whose low incomes qualify them for Arkansas Works.

In a waiver authorizing the program, then-U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell last year approved the assistance, but only for businesses, such as Shire Post Mint, that did not offer coverage in 2016.

Other businesses can also enroll, but they would receive assistance only to cover the employee’s portion of the premium, not the employer’s portion.

To be eligible, businesses must have 50 or fewer employees and cover at least 25 percent of employees’ premiums.

In a special session set to begin Monday, lawmakers are expected to consider authorizing additional changes to Arkansas Works.

One change would limit eligibility to people with incomes of up to the poverty level, instead of 138 percent of the poverty level, starting in 2018.

Under this year’s poverty guidelines, the change would lower the annual income cutoff for an individual from $16,643 to $12,060. The threshold for a family of four would be lowered from $33,948 to $24,600.

If the change is approved by the Legislature and President Donald Trump’s administration, Arkansas Works would stop reimbursing businesses for the premiums of employees with incomes above the poverty level after Dec. 31, Department of Human Services spokesman Brandi Hinkle said.

A draft of the proposed legislation supported by the governor also calls on the Human Services Department and other agencies to make recommendations by Oct. 1 on other ways the state can help small…

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