Arkansas launches insurance portal

Arkansas Employee Benefits Division

Arkansas' Employee Benefits Division (EBD) is building a Web-based system so active and retired state and public school employees can go online to view, enroll in and manage their health care plans and life insurance programs.

The system is being rolled out in stages and would replace a fragmented framework, partially paper-based and partially composed of homegrown systems, said Sharon Dickerson, executive director of the division, which is part of the state finance and administration department.

The state has a self-insured program for its 76,000 school and state employees. School workers were first to have online access Aug. 1 for open enrollment. Beginning Oct. 1, state employees will have the same capabilities. With eligibility data in one central repository, benefits include reduced paper use, lower administrative costs and improved efficiency, Dickerson said.

Employee benefits officials also hope that by next summer, claims sent by third-party health care insurers for reimbursement will be paid through the online system. The state agency also wants a claims repository to check eligibility almost at the time the health care carrier requests reimbursement. This will enable the division to check eligibilities on claims to possibly eliminate duplicate payments.

Another benefit of a claims repository would be the ability to query the system and generate reports that filter data from the whole system. For example, EBD could see how many employees have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes and determine how to improve their care, she said.

"We haven't really had that ability in quite a long time," said Dickerson. Through the new system, they can look at various programs available for disease management, educate members, and improve the quality of life.

And business officials could view bills in the system to reconcile disparities or errors with data in their payroll systems. In the past, such officials had to deal with paper bills, take the time to find errors on a list and then send in the corrections to be made. In the new system, if there's an error, officials can correct the bills immediately. "That's the goal," Dickerson said. "The reality is it's going to take a while for them to get there because they haven't had a system as this in the past."

Economic reasons and the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) were the main drivers to revamp the system, Dickerson said. Among other things, the federal law requires health care organizations and other providers to adopt a common business language to improve electronic data interchange, improve security of systems, and enact patient privacy policies.

The Web-based system is fairly intuitive and captures most information accurately, said George Platt, the division's operations manager. Since going live Aug. 1 in time for open enrollment for school employees, the site has received 10,000 hits, he said.

Work on the project started about a year ago. Platt said system developers identified nearly two dozen various data sources — from payroll to homegrown systems that track retirees — that had to be verified, cleaned up and converted into a centralized Oracle Corp. 9i database.

The division uses a HIPAA-compliant software eligibility program from Dallas-based Physmark Inc. The three-year renewable contract with Physmark cost slightly more than $1 million, Dickerson said.

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