Arkansas Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford briefed the House Public Health Committee on the health insurance exchange coming to the state in response to federal health care reform.
Bradford, who declared "I’m just your mailman," stayed away from a partisan position on the highly-controversial measure and urged Arkansas lawmakers to give his agency authority to control as much as possible at the state level.
"I’m not going to editorialize or become a part of the legislation because I don’t have a vote up there [in Washington]," Bradford told committee members. "My concern about portable health care is that we put ourselves in a position to help your constituents."
"That’s what I’m selling, folks. Let’s take care of our people," said Bradford, a former insurance executive and former legislator who once chaired the Senate and House Public Health Committees during his tenure.
Arkansas has received three federal grants – two for $1 million apiece and a third for $200,000 – according to Bradford’s morning testimony.
One of the million dollar grants is to create a health insurance exchange for private insurance companies to expand coverage in the state. When it is operational, the exchange is expected to be "self-sufficient," said Bradford, who added that he didn’t anticipate it would be a "high overhead" operation.
Currently, the Insurance Department is soliciting bid requests as part of that process. The exchange will be designed to help individuals, families and small businesses shop for health insurance coverage in a way that permits an easier comparison of available insurance plans based on price, benefits, services and quality, according to the AID web site.
A second million dollar grant will oversee the study of medical loss ratios. Under the new federal law, health insurance companies are required to spend 80-85% of their premiums on medical claims. The grant money will be used to assess and assist the agency’s rate review system under changes from the new law.
A third smaller federal grant has also been received by the Insurance Department. It will pay for planning to beef up consumer protection under health care reform.
The grant monies have allowed the commission to hire 4 new employees, mostly to oversee aspects of the implementation at the state level. Bradford said when the federal money runs out, the jobs will go away.
He also told committee members that counterparts in other states that have joined in legal action to repeal health care reform are not taking any action to implement measures. He said the feds would dictate terms and conditions for those states and if the Arkansas legislature decided to do nothing.
"I would never want to be a part of that because I know we can do better," Bradford said. "Everyday, I’m acting as if it’s going to happen."
Bradford explained that with questions still pending about the constitutionality of the law and the fact that all reforms are not required until 2014, the General Assembly will have a chance to implement additional measures in the 2013 regular session, if necessary.
Bradford told Talk Business after today’s committee hearing that he expects legislation for what’s needed now to be filed later this week, weather permitting. He said he expected the bill to start in the Arkansas House for consideration, most likely in the House Insurance and Commerce Committee.
You can read more about Bradford’s comments from our latest issue of Talk Business & Politics. Talk Business contributor Suzi Parker interviewed Bradford in an article you can read here.