Arkansas Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford met informally with state legislators at noon today to discuss the progress on setting up health insurance exchanges. Currently, Arkansas has applied for and received "Level 1" funding to plan for the implementation of a state health care exchange, which is one component of the ObamaCare/Federal Health Care Reform.
Bradford told the group of around 25 legislators, made up largely of Republicans, that the commission would like to move on the next step of planning for the exchanges and apply for a "Level 2" grant. However, Bradford insisted he needs some level of support for moving forward before he applied for the grant. This puts a tight time table for the legislators to consider this as the deadline to apply is September 30 – only two weeks away.
"If we don’t get a letter from the governor with your encouragement for the process, we are bailing," said Bradford. "And that is too soon to bail. We’ve got plenty of time to bail. We have got to get an expression to the governor on the process, and you can say in that same expression that ‘By golly, we are not agreeing to a local exchange’."
Both Minority Leader John Burris and Rep. Mark Biviano expressed concerns over approving the funding so quickly without a clear idea of how large the grant would be and without seeing a budget for how it will be spent.
Grants for other states that have applied for and received this "Level 2" funding have ranged from $4 million to $38 million. Bradford said that he would envision applying for a grant of around $4 million or $5 million. He agreed to provide legislators with a budget by September 26.
Currently, it is unclear how the process will move forward for the legislators to express support for applying for the grant, if they decide to do so. I have some calls in which will hopefully clear this up, but it is clear that Gov. Beebe will not authorize Commissioner Bradford to move forward unless the legislature somehow gets on board.