OBAMACARE OPTIONS: Liz Davenport and her one-year-old son Logan get information from guide Britney Sidebottom. BRIAN CHILSON

An open enrollment kickoff event hosted by the Arkansas Insurance Department at the Clinton School drew dozens of Arkansans this morning interested in information on the new Health Insurance Marketplace, which launched today. The event will continue through 7 p.m. tonight. 

Around 20 trained guides were on hand with laptops to show people options and walk them through the process of signing up for the plans. The federal website used to sign up was overwhelmed with traffic today and the guides had trouble logging on this morning. Instead, they answered general questions. In some cases, they helped consumers fill out paper applications. Many also set up appointments to meet with consumers later this week.

Despite the technical glitches, consumers were upbeat. Liz Davenport, a mother of two who currently has no income, said that although she was unable to enroll electronically this morning, she was glad she made the trip. The guide she spoke with “answered everything I was concerned about. I definitely will be signing up. I’m going to go home now and see if it will let me log on.” 

Davenport has not had health insurance in ten years. She said that she has always been denied when she has attempted to apply for coverage in the past. She was worried that if she signed up for an Obamacare plan, she might lose ARKids coverage for her two children (she will not, the guide explained). She had initially thought that the new plans would just cover wellness visits and was thrilled to learn that they in fact would be full-coverage plans. She will likely qualify for a plan with zero premiums via the “private option.”


“I was not aware that I was going to be able to get health care without having to pay a premium,” she said. “I’m very excited. Not having health insurance, having to pay so much if I got sick. I won’t have to suffer so long when I’m sick. And I won’t have to make my kids suffer from me being sick, and not being able to take care of them.”

Andre Martin, who currently works part time at a minimum-wage job said that he had never had health insurance in his adult life. He will also likely qualify for the “private option.”  

“I’ve been healthy,” Martin said. “I’ve been luckier than a lot of other Americans who haven’t been healthy. It would feel better for me if I knew I had health insurance. Now that it is here, I’m going to take advantage of it because who knows, something could happen.” He said he plans to sign up as soon as the system is up and running. “I hope everyone thinks it’s a good thing for the country,” he said. “Now people can start focusing on other things, not just worrying about health.”

As an employee of the Little Rock School District, Maria Garcia is trying to figure out how to respond to the big premium hikes in the public school employee insurance system. She came to compare the plans available on the Marketplace after premiums doubled on her employee plan. While it’s possible for consumers to shop on the Marketplace even if they’re offered employer-sponsored insurance, they do not qualify for subsidies if the employer coverage is deemed affordable and sufficient under the law. Garcia said she was planning to find out more, but she was concerned that she would not be eligible for subsidies for the Marketplace despite the big rate hike in her employer plan. 

Joe and Darlene Okeke, parents of three, also came to compare the Marketplace plans to an employer plan, in this case through Darlene’s job as a nurse (Joe is a small businessman). They are going to re-connect with the guide they met today once the system is back up and running. “Everybody is going to get insurance, that is a major deal,” Darlene said. Joe added, “Irrespective of pre-existing conditions. You can’t beat that!” 

Josh Visnaw, a second-year student at the Clinton School, said that he has been uninsured for more than a year. He is Type 1 diabetic and has been unable to find affordable health insurance on the private market. He came to find out about what level of subsidies he would be eligible for on the Marketplace. He said that he has been looking forward to January 1, when coverage will start under Obamacare. “I’ve been cautiously optimistic,” he said.