January 2, 2024
by Michael R. Wickline / Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
The share of Medicare-eligible retirees in Arkansas’ public school and state employee health insurance plans, who opted for group Medicare Advantage with prescription drug coverage through United Healthcare for calendar year 2024, has remained consistent with the share for calendar year 2023, according to the director of the state’s Employee Benefits Division.
Division Director Grant Wallace said the number of Medicare-eligible retirees who selected United Healthcare’s group Medicare Advantage with prescription drug coverage (MAPD) totaled 16,032, compared to 15,794 Medicare-eligible retirees who chose the plans’ traditional Health Advantage coverage for calendar year 2024.
“There was a net [increase] of 209 to Health Advantage in comparison to last year,” he said in an email sent to the Legislative Council’s Employee Benefits Division Oversight Subcommittee.
“I am attributing a lot of that to the network negotiations that have been ongoing with United Healthcare from July onward,” Wallace said in his email.
“Still the overall percentages stayed consistent with last year — 50.4% United Healthcare to 49.6% Health Advantage,” he wrote.
Wallace said Tuesday in a written statement “These figures are lower than what was projected and expected by our actuaries and the Legislative consultants.
“Our team is working on increasing education on all the benefits of this plan especially the non-differential aspect between out-of-network and in-network providers,” he said.
The enrollment period for retirees in the state’s health insurance plans for public school and state employees was in November.
Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, who is a co-chairman of the Legislative Council’s Employee Benefits Division Oversight Subcommittee, said Tuesday he has always thought more Medicare-eligible retirees would shift to the group MAPD coverage from the traditional Health Advantage coverage as they become more knowledgeable about the coverage.
The Medicare-eligible retirees in the state’s health insurance plan for state employees are still more likely to opt for United Healthcare’s group MAPD coverage than the Medicare-eligible retirees in the state’s health insurance plan for public school employees.
Wallace said 8,816 retirees in the state employee health insurance plan opted for United Healthcare’s group MAPD coverage compared to 5,456 retirees in this plan chose the Health Advantage coverage for 2024.
He said 10,338 retirees in the public school employee health insurance plan selected the Health Advantage coverage, and 7,216 of the retirees in this plan opted for the United Healthcare group MAPD coverage for 2024.
Asked why more of these retirees in the public school health insurance plan didn’t select the group MAPD coverage, Donna Morey, executive director of the Arkansas Retired Teachers Association, said Tuesday that probably due to “the bad press United Heath got” with the Baptist Health System, St. Bernard’s in Jonesboro, and a hospital in Conway.
In August, Conway Regional Health System reached a multi-year agreement with United Healthcare that took effect on Aug. 15, six weeks after dropping out of network with the insurer in a contracting dispute.
The impasse centered on a disagreement between United Healthcare and Conway Regional over the price of health care services, a portion of which the insurer pays out.
On Dec. 13, Wallace told lawmakers that the Baptist Health system and United Healthcare Insurance Co. have not been able to reach an agreement on a contract for 2024, but retirees in the state’s public school and state employee health insurance plans with group Medicare Advantage with prescription drug coverage (MAPD) through United Healthcare won’t be negatively impacted. Baptist Health, with 11 hospitals, is the largest non-profit healthcare system in Arkansas.
At that time, Wallace told lawmakers United Healthcare’s contract with St. Bernards Healthcare in northeast Arkansas ends April 30, 2024, and those negotiations are continuing. St. Bernards Healthcare officials have indicated they will still accept retirees in the state’s public and state employee health insurance plans with group MAPD and work out billing with United Healthcare, Wallace said.
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