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Governor Beebe's weekly column and radio address: Leading the Nation

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While we’ve made great advances as a state in recent years, there are still areas where we sit toward the bottom in national rankings and need to improve. So, although we often see success, we stop only briefly to enjoy it before moving on to the next task. Happily, one of those pauses came along this week with some great Arkansas news.

One area where we’ve been low on national lists is in the percentage of our people who have health insurance. In a Gallup poll last year, we ranked 49th in the country, with only Texas faring worse. Then, in January, Arkansans began receiving coverage under the state’s Private Option. Now, in a new Gallup survey, while Texas still remains 50th, Arkansas is no longer 49th, or 39th, or 29th. In just six months, we have vaulted past half the country and are now tied for 22nd place with New Hampshire in our percentage of insured residents. This 10 percent drop in our uninsured population was the greatest of any state in the nation. While this enormous jump is remarkable, we can trace the path that brought us here.

When the U.S. Supreme Court reached their decision on Obamacare and allowed states to individually decide whether to expand Medicaid, Arkansas came up with a unique, bi-partisan approach. Instead of simply expanding our current Medicaid programs, we used the offered federal resources to help the working poor in our state obtain private insurance policies.

This approach garnered the approval of the federal government through a waiver. It also won the support of our state legislature, which passed the plan with the required three-quarters supermajority. This meant that while other states were held back by political infighting, we could take advantage of a unique opportunity to get more Arkansans the health insurance they needed. The Private Option would improve the quality of life for tens of thousands of Arkansans, while reducing the burden of uncompensated care on our hospitals and health-care system.

Although we’re still in the first year of the program, nearly 200,000 Arkansans have already qualified for and enrolled in the Private Option. The program’s success has helped us connect 45 percent of our previously uninsured population with the care that will lead to healthier, more productive lives.

However, as I alluded to earlier, this success does not mean that our work is almost completed. One-in-eight Arkansans still does not have health insurance. In addition, we are already looking to next year, making adjustments to the Private Option to make sure costs are contained.

For Arkansas to reach her full potential, we have to take pride in the progress we’ve made while still acknowledging the challenges that lie before us. This week’s news of our rapid rise in a national measure is rare, because most improvements happen more incrementally over time. It will take continued dedication and pragmatic action to ensure that Arkansas has more good news to share in the future, and a better quality of life for our people as its most tangible result.