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Smart Talk, Jan. 22



Insuring by sex


Women, including Arkansas women, face special problems in buying individual health insurance, a study by the National Women's Law Center has noted. For example, Arkansas is among nine states and the District of Columbia in which insurance companies can refuse to sell individual health insurance because the applicant has been a victim of domestic violence. (Insurers generally are free to reject individuals seeking health insurance, but states sometimes enact laws to prohibit certain types of refusals.)

Women also can be charged higher premiums than men for individual health coverage, a practice called “gender rating,” which insurers justify on the ground that women on the average incur higher health-care costs than men. Ten states specifically prohibit gender rating and two states limit its use. Arkansas is not among these. The Arkansas Insurance Department has a rule about gender rating, but it's wishy-washy: “When rates are differentiated on the basis of sex, the insurer must justify in writing to the satisfaction of the Commissioner, the rate differential. All rates shall be based on sound actuarial principles and a valid classification system and must be related to actual loss statistics, and must use proven loss statistics, where possible.” (Italics ours.)

The NWLC says: “[O]ver forty years ago the insurance industry voluntarily abandoned the practice of using race as a rating factor, despite their position that it was actuarially based, and several states adopted statutes expressly banning the practice. Just as in the case of race, it is bad public policy to allow this discrimination to continue outside of the employer-provided benefits setting, where gender rating has been banned nationwide for over thirty years.”


The eternal campaign


The Arkansas legislature wasn't even a week into its now-annual legislative session when we got a note about a fund-raiser from someone hoping to join the state Senate in 2011.

Jay Barth, the politics prof at Hendrix College in Conway who lives in downtown Little Rock, is to have a fund-raiser for his Democratic campaign Feb. 5 at the home of his neighbors, Dr. Ricky Medlock and Scott Heffington. Barth seeks Senate District 34, currently held by Sen. Tracy Steele, who is term-limited.


Coal-plant opponents seek recusal


Opponents of the SWEPCO coal-burning power plant under construction in Hempstead County have only begun to fight. Last week, they asked for financial disclosures from members of the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, which recently ordered that construction be allowed to continue even though opponents are challenging an air permit for the plant.

The central complaint: Commissioner Thomas Schueck, a Little Rock industrialist who holds pollution permits for his own businesses, dominated discussion of the decision to allow the construction to proceed. Intervenors in the case, including a hunting club near the power plant, wrote that Schueck owns a substantial interest in Lexicon Inc., which in turns derives “substantial” revenues from contracts with Shaw Group LLC, a contractor working on SWEPCO's Turk plant in Hempstead County, and also with ABB Alston Power, which is providing the turbine generators at the Turk plant. The appearance of potential conflict is the basis for an intervenors' motion that Schueck recuse from considering Turk plant issues. They also want to know if any other commissioners have direct or indirect relationships with SWEPCO. Schueck didn't return a call. By judicial standards, Schueck shouldn't have participated in an appeal proceeding as he did when he had a financial relationship with firms with a stake in the outcome.


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