by Max Brantley
OK, I confess. I usually don't open the e-mail containing Gov. Mike Beebe's weekly radio address. I went to my trash bin today after I saw unhappy Republicans Twittering about it. What a bunch of weenies. After a solid week of Republican yammering about the evil Beebe's political machinations and his liability in the Forestry Commission financial mess (the buck, if one could be found, certainly does stop with the governor on this), now they're bent out of shape for Beebe mentioning Republican obstruction of health care reform. Why, why, it's ..... PARTISAN!
FACT: Republicans vowed to stop funding the Insurance Department rather than allow planning of health exchanges to proceed, even though the law of the land provides for them. They seem to prefer not to have recitation of facts — and the transfer of control of the exchanges to Washington — discussed in public. Happy holidays, y'all. You cooked it; you eat it.
SPEAKING OF HEALTH EXCHANGES: A coalition of major health groups announced today they are ready to partner with the federal government on getting this health insurance option available in Arkansas. Gov. Beebe has also told the feds he'd back this hybrid management of a health exchange. The coalition — Arkansas Hospital Association, Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, Delta Dental of Arkansas, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/AIA, Arkansas Pharmacists Association, Independent Insurance Agents of Arkansas, Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families — says there's a possibility of retaining some state control through a partnership,. See jump for details.
Health care, long one of the basic tenets of our society, has become a politically polarizing issue during the past few years. The rapidly rising costs of care are making it more difficult for Americans to obtain the health services they need. In Arkansas, we are taking action ourselves to control these expensive health-care costs. We are working with insurance companies, health-care providers, consumers and government leaders to bring about payment reforms we hope to begin implementing in 2012.
The most strident political debate remains on the federal level and surrounds the Affordable Care Act, which was passed by Congress last year and which is to be ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court next year. While its fate is unknown, this health-care reform is the law of the land, and includes new programs that states are required to follow and that will provide additional services for our people.
Among these programs are health-insurance exchanges, intended to foster competition between insurance companies and provide consumers with more choices for their health care. Under the Affordable Care Act, Arkansas is required to participate in an exchange. We were given the choice between setting up and operating our own exchange or deferring to the federal government to do that for us.
My preference was to maintain control of the insurance exchange in Arkansas, as much as possible, and not give control of it to Washington. A bill was introduced during the 2011 legislative session to give Arkansas that very control. However, legislative Republicans vigorously fought the bill, and voted repeatedly to de-fund the entire Arkansas Insurance Department over this issue.
To avoid the disastrous consequences of losing our Insurance Department, I agreed to abide by any legislative decisions regarding the health-insurance exchange and not supersede their decision by executive order. As a result, we missed the opportunity to control the exchange, and it will be set up by the federal government.
Now, our attention has turned to making sure that our consumers and state taxpayer dollars are protected as this insurance exchange is created. To that end, this past week, I endorsed Arkansas's involvement in a Federal Exchange Partnership. This partnership will allow us to apply for federal money that will permit us to meet our legal requirements using as little state funding as possible. It will also help to ensure that, as more Arkansans sign up for health-insurance programs, the premium taxes collected on those policies remain in Arkansas and don’t go to Washington.
Insurance options are best modeled with local needs and perspectives in mind, and this partnership program will give Arkansas a voice in that process, even with the federal government in control of this exchange. The health-care landscape continues to change in America, and we are working to make sure that Arkansas consumers are protected. Rhetoric on this issue may remain heated, but my focus is on working toward a healthier Arkansas. I believe that will be achieved with policies and ideas that provide our citizens with the best care possible while getting costs under control.
NEWS RELEASE ON HEALTH EXCHANGES
Consumer advocates, business and industry groups, believe partnering with the federal government is the next best option to a state-based exchange. They support working with the federal government to ensure Arkansans will have access to the best possible health insurance marketplace.
“While we believe the state would be best served by an Arkansas based exchange, we support the federal partnership and applaud the parties involved in making this decision,” said Bo Ryall, President & CEO of the Arkansas Hospital Association.
Utilizing the federal government’s partnership model is in the best interest of the state. Under this model, states may choose to operate the plan management function, the consumer assistance function, or both. By partnering with the federal government, Arkansas will still have some say in the health plan choices consumers will choose from. Plan management functions could include the collection and analysis of plan information, monitoring and oversight, and data collection and analysis. The state could also opt to oversee in-person consumer assistance, manage the Navigator program, and conduct outreach and education. Arkansans representing diverse viewpoints would comprise a governing body that would design and oversee policy decisions for those functions shared with the federal government. This would ensure that decisions are made by Arkansans, not by someone in Washington.
Even though Arkansas will participate in the Federally Facilitated Exchange, building the infrastructure to connect to it will not be without cost. Taking advantage of the federal funds available to comply with this federal mandate is a fiscally responsible choice for Arkansas. Additionally, federal funds spent on infrastructure improvements will create efficiencies in Medicaid and private insurance plan management, saving the state money.
Lynn Zeno, Executive Vice President of the Independent Insurance Agents of Arkansas added, “Going forward, the federal partnership model is the best way to maintain some state regulatory oversight, protect consumers and save the state money.”