The state of Arkansas is implementing a novel approach to expanding health care coverage for individuals newly eligible for Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Through a section 1115 demonstration waiver, the state will use federal funding via a premium assistance model to secure private health insurance offered through the newly formed health insurance marketplace to those individuals aged nineteen to sixty-four who have incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. As of April 2014, the Health Care Independence Program (HCIP), as it is formally known, had over 155,000 individuals who had been determined eligible. The HCIP premium assistance approach is commonly referred to as the “private option” and was designed to achieve comparable access, network availability, quality of care, and opportunities for improved outcomes for HCIP enrollees (i.e., those who would be eligible for traditional, fee-for-service Medicaid through ACA expansion) when compared with their privately insured counterparts. This article provides the background, political discourse, policy development, evaluation strategy, and progress report for this innovative new program.

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