Gov. Mike Beebe, D (Governor's office photo)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The rates that insurers will charge in the Arkansas marketplace set up under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) will be as much as 25 percent less than what the companies originally proposed, the state Insurance Department said Monday as it unveiled the plans.

The Arkansas Insurance Department announced premium rates for the 71 qualified health insurance plans offered by four companies that will be sold on the exchange, an online health market where consumers can get private health insurance, subsidized by the government. Open enrollment for the exchange begins Oct. 1, and the rates and coverage will take effect Jan. 1. State officials say they expect about 500,000 people to purchase insurance on the exchange.

“I would say this is a good start,” Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford said.

Gov. Mike Beebe told reporters he was pleased with the rates, which insurance officials said were 25 percent less than the companies had first proposed and about 10 percent lower than expected by forecasters.

“It’s a better deal for taxpayers and everybody,” Beebe said. “It may not be a better deal for insurance companies … They’re all happy because they all signed contracts. They may not be happy, but they’re still in business.”

The carrier menu will include plans from Celtic, QualChoice, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and a Blue Cross and Blue Shield multi-state plan.

For a 25-year-old non-tobacco user who lives in Little Rock, for example, the monthly base premium for no-frills bronze coverage will be about $186 per month. A comparable 55-year-old would pay about $412 per month.

Through the eHealthInsurance.com database, carriers are now offering individually medically underwritten plans in Little Rock with typical rates ranging from about $60 to $200 per month for a 25-year-old and about $90 to $270 per month for a 55-year-old.

Rates will increase in January partly because PPACA will prohibit insurers from rejecting applicants due to health problems or charging enrollees with health problems higher rates.

The premiums can vary based on age, geography, family size and tobacco use.

State insurance officials say they expect few Arkansans to pay the total premium amount, since many will qualify for new PPACA tax credits.

Arkansas also will use federal Medicaid funds to help about half of the exchange users pay for exchange coverage.

Beebe, a Democrat, and the Republican-led Legislature approved the plan as an alternative to expanding Medicaid’s enrollment.

Bradford said he hoped the release of the rates means that lawmakers will allow a $4.5 million contract to promote the insurance exchange to move forward. A legislative panel on Friday voted to delay approval of the contract, which would use federal money to pay for television, radio and newspaper ads as well as billboards and direct mail pieces between Oct. 1 and March 31. Lawmakers said they didn’t want to continue the marketing effort until they knew how much the insurance plans would cost.

Allison Bell contributed information to this article.

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