Glenda Smoke of Bismark (right) gets advice from financial counselor Lisa Hodge-Sims about her eligibility for private insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act.
It was a suspicious spot that got Glenda Smoke of Bismarck into the doctor’s office in June 2015. A few weeks later, the tests showed she had Paget’s disease, a rare type of cancer involving the skin around the breast.
“At first I was in shock,” she said. “But my second thought was worrying about my ability to pay for it. I had no insurance.”
Smoke and her husband, Ricky, have three adult children and six grandchildren. She cares for two of her grandchildren, ages 2 and 3, during the day.
When she arrived at UAMS for treatment, a financial counselor told her about her eligibility for private insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act and helped her get enrolled.
Smoke is one of the more than 250,000 Arkansans who now have health insurance through Medicaid expansion as a part of the federal Affordable Care Act. With federal approval, the Arkansas Legislature devised a plan that allows people who qualify for the expanded Medicaid coverage to use that money to purchase private health insurance.
In 2014, the first year Medicaid expansion was approved, the rate of uninsured patients at UAMS dropped from 14 percent to 3 percent. Not only was that important for the UAMS Medical Center’s bottom line, but it has improved the quality of life for thousands of Arkansans who can now afford to go see a doctor, said UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D.
Since Medicaid Expansion began, UAMS has seen an increase in patient volume: 15 percent in outpatient visits, 15 percent in surgical cases and 6 percent in inpatient visits.
Rahn said that providing access to health care for the previously uninsured will increase productivity in the workforce and overall community health.
“I think the goal all of us in health care have is to provide a health system that produces greater value for the public,” Rahn said.
The Smokes had been insured until 11 years ago when Ricky Smoke had a heart attack at age 55.
“He had complete blockage and the attack was so severe that it damaged his heart.”
The couple had just switched insurance companies and were surprised to find that the new company wouldn’t cover the heart attack.
“We paid that bill for years,” Glenda Smoke said. “Since then we haven’t been able to afford insurance.”
He’s now insured through the Department of Veterans Affairs and she’s grateful to now be insured at an affordable rate.
Mark Brooks, 52, of Hot Springs, is also covered through the expansion. He signed up with the help of a local clinic and the state Department of Human Services.
Brooks says going to the doctor without the worry of how much it will cost has been a relief.
“Not only is it not costing me $100 each time I visit the doctor, I’m also receiving quality medical care,” Brooks said.
Brooks has thyroid eye disease. It has caused the muscles that control movement in his eyes to swell, threatening his vision. As he awaits a surgery at UAMS, Brooks says the Medicaid expansion has eased his mind.
“It’s really turned out to be a positive thing for me.”