Report by UAMS Students, Faculty Shows Newly Insured Have Positive View of Affordable Care Act

By Ben Boulden

Fifteen students and three instructors in the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health in the spring conducted a project, Voices of the Newly Insured, interviewing 29 people who sought health insurance through the new Arkansas Insurance Marketplace and the Arkansas Private Option.

The project was part of the curriculum for a College of Public Health course, Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities: Theory, Experience and Elimination, taught by Kate Stewart, M.D., M.P.H., and Creshelle Nash, M.D., M.P.H., both on faculty in the college’s Department of Health Policy and Management. Ashley Bachelder, M.P.H., M.P.S., was a teaching assistant in the course and one of the report’s co-authors with Stewart and Nash.

Voices of the Newly Insured describes interview themes and includes 11 personal stories of individuals who recently acquired health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. To read a copy of the report, go to:

“This report not only gives a voice to individuals, most of whom did not have health insurance before, it also adds a human dimension to an important public policy debate.” said James Raczynski, PhD., dean of the UAMS College of Public Health. “This work helped these students connect what they were doing in the classroom with what’s happening in the community.”

Among the report’s findings were:

  • Nearly all of the interviewees reported challenges accessing health care before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
  • Their difficulties in the enrollment process varied with electronic, paper and over-the-phone applications, but more than half did not report problems.
  • One-third of the participants did not fully understand all the details of their health insurance plans.
  • All individuals interviewed described feelings of relief knowing they had coverage.
  • About half of the individuals expressed gratitude that their insurance plans had no cost-sharing components.

“I completely understand how important doing this work was to providing a voice for those who are newly insured,” said Jenna Rhodes, a student involved in the project. “If you have always had insurance, you can’t empathize with those who haven’t and what it’s like to know you have cancer, but not be able to treat it.”

The project was designed and implemented through a longstanding collaboration between the College of Public Health and Arkansas Community Organizations. In previous studies done as part of the course, students have interviewed residents of a neighborhood which was threatened with displacement and people without health insurance.

“We let people tell their own stories,” Stewart said. “Whatever the experiences of these people were, we wanted to find out about what happened when they tried to enroll and how they feel about it now. The effort enabled the students to examine an important part of public health and apply what they learned about public health theory to real people and experiences. We can teach them that being uninsured is bad for your health, but that’s not the same as talking to someone who avoids care when they need it because they can’t afford the bills.”

A public forum to discuss the Arkansas Private Option, organized by the Arkansas Department of Human Services, will be 1-4 p.m. Friday at UAMS in Room 115 of the I. Dodd Wilson Education Building at West Markham Street and Hooper Drive. On-campus parking will be available in Parking Deck 2 on Campus Drive, which can be accessed via Hooper.