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Arkansas hospitals like Medicaid alternative

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Critics say the Arkansas Private Option program is more expensive than predicted, but hospitals say it’s reducing the number of patients unable to pay their bills.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act encourages states to use federal money to make Medicaid available to all residents with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Arkansas received federal permission to use the money to help low-income residents buy private health coverage through the public exchange system.

Optumas actuaries said state spending on premiums has been in lines with what was budgeted, even though the participants are an average of about two years older than expected.

But Arkansas Medicaid Director Andy Allison has announced he’ll leave his job next month to pursue private sector opportunities.

Some members of the state Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee asked at an April hearing whether the program might not be too successful, and Forbes published an op-ed Wednesday in which Josh Archambault alleged Arkansas will be asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for help with handling cost overruns.

The Arkansas Legislative Council held a hearing on the program this week. Bo Ryall, president of the American Hospital Association, presented a report on a survey of 42 hospitals.

Seven reported increases in the number of emergency room visits over 5 percent, but 26 reported decreases in ER use, and 13 reported decreases in the number of ER visits. The average drop was 2 percent, and the fall at four hospitals was more than 10 percent.

The number of ER visits by uninsured patients tumbled an average of 24 percent at the hospitals. Just four hospitals reported seeing more visits by uninsured patients, and 13 reported drops in the number of uninsured patients ranging from 30 percent to 50 percent.

The hospitals reported similar in trends in the number of uninsured patients admitted to the hospital. One hospital reported seeing the number of uninsured patients admitted doubling, but 15 reported drops. The decreases ranged from 20 percent to almost 60 percent.

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