July 16, 2008
At a Monday meeting of the Arkansas HIV/AIDS Minority Task Force (AHMTF), members considered recommending that the state require health insurers to cover HIV/AIDS patients. Currently, there is no state mandate for insurers to provide coverage to people with HIV/AIDS. All insurers active in Arkansas voluntarily provide HIV/AIDS coverage in their policies.
"It's a good idea," Rick Collins, AHMTF's chair, said after the meeting. "But it's something we'll have to discuss more."
"I was, quite frankly, shocked that it was not [mandated]," said AHMTF member Dr. Wallace Thomas, associate medical director at Arkansas Blue Cross/Blue Shield. State law requires carriers to provide Food and Drug Administration-approved treatments to patients with cancer, he noted.
Uninsured HIV/AIDS patients would have virtually no chance of gaining coverage, Thomas said. "I won't say impossible, but it's remote," he added. And employers with fewer than 50 workers would probably opt for an insurance policy that would not cover HIV/AIDS for the first year of employment, he said.
There are about 5,200 people living with HIV/AIDS in Arkansas. Since 1999, diagnoses have been roughly equal between black and white residents, though black residents represent just 15 percent of the state's population.
"Since [insurers are] already doing it voluntarily, it would basically be symbolic," said task force member Dr. Michelle Smith. "I would have no problem with that," replied Thomas.
The panel has held a fact-finding forum in Little Rock and has another planned for Fayetteville on Thursday; in Pine Bluff in August; and in West Memphis in September. AHMTF plans to submit its recommendations to the governor and to state House and Senate leaders by Nov. 1.