Beebe: Arkansas to Stick With Partnership Exchange

By Andrew DeMillo | December 14, 2012

Gov. Mike Beebe said Arkansas will move forward on a partnership with the federal government for an online insurance marketplace required under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, though he believes the state can revisit that decision later.

Beebe said he hadn’t found support from lawmakers to opt for a state-run model of the insurance exchange, in which households and private businesses shop for private coverage. Beebe had told the federal government that Arkansas would opt for a partnership model in a letter last month, but left open the possibility of a state-run plan after the Obama administration extended the deadline.

“Right now the Legislature has indicated no desire to change anything to go to a pure state-run (exchange). So we’ll continue where we are and they’ll continue to gather information, and when and if I get a consensus or expression from the Legislature that they want to a state exchange, then we’ll write another letter,” Beebe told The Associated Press after speaking at the Agricultural Council of Arkansas’ annual meeting. “It may be an annual kind of change, depending on how quickly you can ramp it up and what their guidelines call for, but as I understand it we can always change if the Legislature wants to change.”

The partnership option allows states to handle consumer relations and oversight of health plans, while the federal government does the heavy lifting, taking care of enrollment and figuring out any taxpayer help that consumers may be entitled to. Beebe sent the letter opting for the partnership model before the Obama administration announced it would give states another month to decide on a state-run exchange.

Beebe, a Democrat, decided on the partnership model last year after Republican lawmakers blocked efforts for a state-run exchange. The state has since been moving toward a partnership model, and has received more than $27.7 million in grants from the federal government for planning. Republicans will control both chambers of the Legislature next year, and the incoming House speaker and Senate president have said they haven’t found much support for a state exchange.

Beebe said he wasn’t surprised at the lack of support, given the short period time since the federal government extended the deadline.

“That’s a little quick for them to wrap their arms around what their options are,” Beebe said.

The exchange is one of two major components of the federal health care law that Beebe and lawmakers must address. Beebe is urging lawmakers to support expanding Medicaid’s eligibility under the law, which would add 250,000 people to the program in the state.

Republicans have generally opposed the expansion, but have left open the possibility of a compromise that could include reforms to the state’s Medicaid program.

Beebe told the council expansion would help rural hospitals around the state by cutting down on the cost of uncompensated care they must address when patients don’t have insurance.

“They’re going to be paid for some of these people they wouldn’t get paid for that they’re servicing free,” Beebe said.

 

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