An open enrollment kickoff event for the new Health Insurance Marketplace is under way at the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock.
The event kicked off shortly after 10 a.m. with about 20 staffed stations offering personal assistance with setting up marketplace accounts, comparing health plans and determining financial-aid eligibility. The stations quickly filled up with Arkansans looking to enroll.
The state has said it expects more than 500,000 people to shop for plans through the marketplace, a key component of the federal health-care law.
The kickoff event, a partnership between the Clinton School and the Arkansas Insurance Department, marked a "historic" day for the state, Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford said during opening remarks to begin the program.
"Not only will it give them great coverage when they're very, very sick, but it gives them preventive services which in the long run will help control the rates and will improve the quality of life for Arkansans," he said, calling the options "quality insurance at an affordable price."
Among those showing up to enroll was Andre Martin, a 46-year-old Little Rock resident who doesn't have health insurance. Martin said his attempt to enroll Tuesday was unsuccessful because the online program was knocked offline during the event.
But, Martin said, he was pleased with the options he has available and will try again to enroll.
"If I got sick today, I don't know what I'd do other than go to the hospital and worry about everything later," Martin said. "As soon as this goes where it's going to go, I'll have insurance and not have to worry about my future."
Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School, said he hoped entities across the state follow the kickoff initiative and set up similar programs.
"We are a school of public service and today we believe is an important public service," he said, noting he's been "kept up at night" in previous years by the large number of students in the school who lack health insurance. "This year for the first time, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, a large number of our students, particularly those 26 and under, are on their parents' insurance and have insurance ... That is a great thing."
The free enrollment event continues through 7 p.m.