Gov. Mike Beebe (D) used his weekly radio address to wade back into the heated state debate over a federal health care exchange.

Earlier this month, Beebe’s Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford “quashed” the state exchange effort and said Arkansas would join a federal program, in part due to legislative resistance.

“This opposition, coupled with a lack of state authority, means that Arkansans will be served by the Federal Health Benefits Exchange with enrollment beginning October 1, 2013,” Bradford said.

In his address, Beebe said it was his preference “to maintain control of the insurance exchange in Arkansas, as much as possible, and not give control of it to Washington.”

He noted Rep. Fred Allen’s (D-Little Rock) exchange bill that was sent to interim committee after Republicans raised a ruckus and called for a delay to implementing aspects of the federal law until a Supreme Court ruling in 2012.

Beebe characterized the debate saying, “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,” Beebe said in his weekly address.

He revealed that this week he “endorsed” Arkansas’ involvement in a Federal Exchange Partnership, which was included in a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

“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,” Beebe said. “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,” Beebe added.

You can read his complete column at this link.

UPDATE: A coalition of health care providers and stakeholders, business leaders, insurance executives and children’s advocates chimed in with support of the state’s push to join the federal exchange.

“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.

The coalition noted that Arkansas should take advantage of the federal funds available to comply with the new health care, suggesting it “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.”

The coalition includes: the 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, and Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families.

The Republican Party of Arkansas issued a press statement later in the day thanking Beebe for giving the GOP credit for stopping “a key component of Obamacare.”

Katherine Vasilos, communications director for the Arkansas GOP, said, “While there is bi-partisan opposition to setting up a health insurance exchange, we thank the Governor for giving Republicans credit for delaying the early implementation of Obamacare in Arkansas. It’s unfortunate Governor Beebe is playing partisan games and using scare tactics to give himself political cover. Only the Governor has the authority to authorize grants to fund an exchange, and he chose to not act. While we agree and applaud his decision, the decision was entirely up to him. Until the Supreme Court rules this summer on the constitutionality of the law, we should not spend tax dollars to fund planning for an Obamacare exchange in Arkansas.”

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Roby Brock
Roby Brock is the Editor-in-Chief and Host of Talk Business & Politics. He can be reached by e-mail at Roby@TalkBusiness.net. Follow him on Twitter: @RobyBrock.