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Compared with residents of other states, more Arkansans who get health insurance from their employers are spending a big slice of income on health costs, according to a report.

The data, which appear in a brief from health-overhaul nonprofit the Commonwealth Fund, is more indicative of low median incomes in the state than exposure to health expenses, said Arkansas Center for Health Improvement health policy director Craig Wilson.

The report released today found that 15.5% of Arkansans with employer-provided health insurance coverage spent 10% or more of their household income on premiums in 2016-2017.

That's compared with 11.6% of people in the U.S. who spent that much.

During that same period, people with high out-of-pocket costs, including expenses such as co-pays, medication, eyeglasses and other medical supplies totaling more than 10% of household income (or 5% for lower-income families), made up 9.8% of Arkansans, compared to 6.8% of Americans.

Researchers wrote that in the years since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act went into effect, people who have employer-provided coverage have received less attention.

They used data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey to examine what people in that group, comprising 158 million Americans, were actually spending on health care.

"U.S. employers are sharing more of their costs with their workers, particularly through higher deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance," the report said.

"Recent research indicates that employer plan premiums and out-of-pocket costs, like those for prescription drugs, are eating up an increasing portion of household budgets."

Five of eight states where more people paid high proportions of their incomes toward health insurance premiums -- Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Florida, as well as Arkansas -- are in the South, the report said.

Nationwide, researchers estimated that 23.6 million Americans were cost-burdened with high premium contributions or high out-of-pocket costs relative to their incomes.

About 4.1 million people struggled with both.

But Wilson noted in an email that the actual median dollars spent in Arkansas don't vary much from other states.

Arkansas households spent $825 on out-of-pocket costs between 2016-2017, the report said. The national median was $800.

Spending on premiums also fell in line with national numbers, with Arkansans spending $2,136 in contributions, which was a bit less than the U.S. median of $2,200.

"I don't think from these data we can make conclusions about whether Arkansas employers are contributing less than employers in other states, thereby exposing Arkansas employees to higher contributions," Wilson wrote.

"Neither can we make conclusions about the level of exposure to out-of-pocket costs compared to employees in other states, i.e., cost-sharing protection."

He said compared to other states, Arkansas has lower premium costs in the individual insurance markets and employer-sponsored coverage, which he attributed to lower provider reimbursement rates.

Metro on 05/23/2019

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