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Health-care premiums fall in Arkansas

An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that health care spending had increased in the first quarter, based on early estimates. Later data revealed that health care spending actually declined slightly during the first three months of the year.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe’s office said Wednesday that most health-care customers will pay less for their plans next year, a relief to state residents — and to the Democratic senator trying to hold onto his seat in one of the country’s most expensive elections.

Health-care premiums will decline about 2 percent next year, Beebe (D) wrote in a statement Wednesday. Beebe helped lead an at-times reluctant Republican legislature to expand Medicaid. In his statement, he said insurance costs nationwide “historically rise by six-to-ten percent annually.” The state used federal funds to launch a private Medicaid option that has been described as a potential model for conservative-leaning states.

Senate Democratic strategists had privately worried that premium increases after the first year of the Affordable Care Act could doom their chances in key states in November; Rep. Tom Cotton (R), who is running against Pryor this year, predicted triple-digit increases in premiums while vowing to dismantle Obamacare.

Pryor, who voted for the Affordable Care Act, recently made health care a key piece of his reelection campaign. Last week, Pryor became one of the first Democrats to begin airing ads promoting health-care reform (though he did not mention the Affordable Care Act by name during the 30-second ad.)

About 168,000 people have signed up for insurance in Arkansas, as of May 2014, and the number of people who are uninsured has been cut in half, according to a Gallup poll this year. Former president Bill Clinton told Democrats in May that they should point to examples like Arkansas, his home state, when campaigning in the midterms.

U.S. spending on health care was originally estimated to hit unprecedented highs this year, with a projection of 9% growth in the first three months of the year. Instead, health care spending actually declined slightly during that time.

Lawmakers and health-care consultants have warned that health-care premiums will continue to rise, some as much as 10 percent on average. But some states – including Arkansas and Connecticut – have predicted flat or even lower costs.

The governor’s projections, however, will not be official until open enrollment begins on Nov. 15. Beebe said he released the estimates “in light of incomplete information that was inadvertently posted on an Insurance Department Web site.”