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Ark. Gov. Mike Beebe
Ark. Gov. Mike Beebe

Arkansas Medicaid expansion credited for lower disability claims

By Paul Demko
Posted: August 30, 2014 - 12:01 am ET

The number of Arkansas residents signing up for federal Supplemental Security Income benefits has dropped 19% since October 2013, which some state officials are attributing to expanded Medicaid eligibility.

First-time applicants decreased from 17,497 to 14,160 through early last week, according to state data.

Arkansas is providing subsidies to individuals with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty threshold to purchase private health plans through the exchange under a model of expansion backed by Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, and Republican lawmakers. More than 190,000 Arkansas residents qualified for the expanded coverage through the end of July.

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State Sen. Jonathan Dismang, a Republican and one of the architects of the “private option” plan, said that he and his colleagues had hoped that expanding Medicaid would reduce the number of people in the SSI program, which is designed for low-income people with disabilities. “It's too early to say with any certainty that that's the case,” Dismang said. “I think that there's an indication that there has been an impact.”

If Arkansas residents are indeed forgoing disability benefits because they can get healthcare coverage through Medicaid, it would be a positive for the state's budget. That's because the federal government picks up only about 70% of the tab for healthcare coverage when individuals enroll through the disability program, compared with 100% for Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act through 2016.

Follow Paul Demko on Twitter: @MHPDemko

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