A contract with Planned Parenthood to provide outreach workers for the effort to help people enroll in subsidized health-insurance coverage beginning Oct. 1 has been delayed, although contracts have been issued to 27 others, officials with the Arkansas Insurance Department said Tuesday.
The contract with Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit organization that provides abortions and other health-care services, was delayed because of “questions,” department spokesman Heather Haywood said. She said she didn’t have any other details.
Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford said, “We just held it.”
He said he plans to meet with representatives of the group soon. Asked what questions need to be answered, he said, “I’ve got to wait until I meet with them.”
“If they meet the criteria like everybody else and they show a population that has not been fully reached by these other providers, that’s what we grade them on,” Bradford said.
Meanwhile, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and a North Little Rock company, Wilkins Training and Development, have withdrawn their applications to provide workers for the effort.
Planned Parenthood spokesman Shelby Cloke said the group has not withdrawn its application for a contract. She referred further questions to Bradford.
State Reps. John Burris of Harrison and David Sanders of Little Rock, both Republicans who supported the expansion of Medicaid through private insurance plans under the so-called private option, said they voiced objections to Bradford about Planned Parenthood being awarded a contract.
“It’s a politically charged organization that I don’t think generally should receive any taxpayer money,” Burris said. “I just didn’t see the value they brought to the table.”
Sanders said he also didn’t see a need for Planned Parenthood to provide workers.
“Given what they do, I don’t see that as combining well with outreach for the private option at all,” Sanders said.
Bradford said he was aware of legislators’ objections to Planned Parenthood but that the concerns would not necessarily keep the group from being awarded a contract.
“If we enter into a contract with them and they agree to perform the guide process, it shouldn’t be controversial,” Bradford said. “It’s not going to have anything to do with the controversial issues.”
Initially, 30 nonprofit organizations, government agencies and companies submitted applications to provide outreach workers for the campaign to enroll Arkansans in health coverage through an exchange, or marketplace, being set up by the state under a partnership with the federal government.
Over the past few days, the Insurance Department has issued contracts to 27 entities, including the Central Arkansas Library System, the state Department of Health and the state Minority Health Commission, Haywood said.
The department’s plans call for the entities to provide a total of 635 workers that will help people enroll in coverage through a federal website.
Under a measure passed by the Legislature during this year’s session, about 250,0000 people with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty level will be able to enroll in private health insurance plans through the exchange and have their premiums paid by Medicaid. That income threshold is $15,860 for an individual or $32,500 for a family of four.
Those with incomes up to 400 percent of the poverty level - $45,960 for an individual or $94,200 for a family of four - will be eligible for federal income tax credit subsidies to help them buy coverage. Coverage under all the plans will start Jan. 1.
State Chamber of Commerce President Randy Zook said the chamber decided in the past few weeks to withdraw its application because “we don’t have the manpower and the staffing level to jump on it.”
The chamber had proposed hiring 12 to 16 outreach workers to hold seminars for small businesses across the state. He said the chamber might still provide education on the health-care law for business owners through local chambers of commerce.
Wilkins Training and Development had proposed hiring a dozen workers who would help people enroll in Pulaski and Jefferson counties. There was no answer at a company telephone number on Tuesday evening.
In its application, Planned Parenthood said it would hire four workers in central Arkansas and three in Northwest Arkansas who would work with other organizations to identify eligible applicants and help them enroll in coverage. The workers would also distribute educational material about the insurance options, and hold enrollment and educational events.
The group has health centers in Little Rock and Fayetteville that provide “medication abortion” services and referrals to abortion providers in addition to HIV testing, and providing contraception and other services, according to the group’s website.
During this year’s session, the Senate approved a bill that would ban state agencies from awarding grants to Planned Parenthood, but the measure failed to clear the House Public Health Committee.
Money to pay 535 of the outreach workers, who are expected to earn about $12 an hour, will come from $16 million in federal money awarded to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Medicaid funds will pay for the remaining 100 workers, according to the state Department of Human Services.
The workers will receive an initial round of training later this month at 22 community colleges and one four-year college under a $2.4 million contract with the state Department of Higher Education. The workers will also complete additional classroom and online-based training through September.