DHS drops request for 100 extra insurance exchange helpers


LITTLE ROCK — The state Department of Human Services has dropped a request to add 100 new employees to work at local DHS offices across the state and help people enroll in the state’s health insurance exchange, officials told a legislative panel Friday.

Joni Jones, director of DHS’ Division of County Operations, told the Legislative Council the agency dropped the request after learning that the federal government would not fully fund the positions, though it will provide full funding for about 535 other in-person assisters known as “guides.”

“We have an original group of over 500 positions that were going to be part of the Affordable Care Act to serve in this in-person assister activity, which was 100 percent federal. Once we added in the 100 positions that the department wanted for county operations, that has a 50-50 (state-federal) match,” Jones said.

The decision to withdraw the request was made Thursday, Jones told the panel.

“Was it a determination that they weren’t needed, and you could do it within existing resources?” asked Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette.

Jones said the agency will use other means to reach out to the estimated 250,000 people who are expected to obtain private insurance through the exchange with federal Medicaid dollars under the so-called “private option,” Arkansas’ alternative to expanding its Medicaid rolls under the federal health care law.

“For example I think a lot of the 250,000 people that are going to come to the program may already be known to the Division of County Operations through our SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program),” she said.

Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, told Jones. “It seems like it’s been a theme all along that there would be no state dollars used for this.”

“We originally thought we would get the same financial arrangement as the original 500 but were subsequently advised that we would not,” Jones replied.

Enrollment in the exchange is scheduled to begin Oct. 1. Coverage is scheduled to begin Jan. 1.