As state legislators debate potential changes to health insurance reform in Arkansas, key constitutional officers will also have a role in the debate.
Gov. Mike Beebe (D) sets policy for the executive branch of the government and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel (D) offers legal counsel to the state.
Beebe and administration officials have pushed for implementation of the federal health care law seeking to establish a health insurance exchange and expand the Medicaid program with the assistance of federal funds.
Beebe has also pushed a separate Medicaid reform effort to restructure the payment system between the state, insurance companies and medical providers in hopes of closing an expected $250-$400 million budget shortfall in the coming years.
Although he has no formal role in the debate, Lt. Gov. Mark Darr (R) has inserted himself in the conversation by frequently discussing his opposition to federal health care reform. Darr even joined a lawsuit to oppose the Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the law.
Darr has sided with GOP legislators against the state expansion of Medicaid and has called on other elected officials to take a similar stand, citing overwhelming public disapproval of the federal health care law.
So what has shaped these elected officials’ health insurance history and where do they presently obtain health insurance?
INSURANCE THROUGH THE STATE
In his full-time role as Governor (and previously as Attorney General), Beebe is a participant in the state’s generous health insurance offering.
However, he’s been enrolled in the state plan since his days as a State Senator, which spanned more than 20 years. His office says that Beebe’s law firm did not offer health insurance in his earlier years and the state plan was his best option at the time.
Beebe’s health insurance positions have also been influenced by his 10-year service on the board of directors of a Searcy hospital. The Governor has publicly referenced that experience on numerous occasions to discuss his position that accepting more Medicaid funding from the federal government would help with uninsured hospital patients whose lack of health care coverage sticks Arkansas hospitals with millions of dollars in uncompensated treatment every year.
McDaniel, who served one term in the legislature, also participates in the state health insurance program. When he was an attorney in private practice before becoming AG, he was in a private health insurance plan.
McDaniel said his office “made the right call” by not intervening in the federal lawsuit that ultimately worked its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. He has also said that Gov. Beebe’s comments on participating in a Medicaid expansion “seem to make sense.”
He has cautiously stated that the Governor and state legislature will make final decisions on changes to health care policy in the state; however, his office has been and will continue to be asked about potential constitutional issues related to state and federal law.
Also, McDaniel is an announced candidate for Governor in 2014 and his decisions will be viewed through that political lens fairly or unfairly.
Though part-time in his Lt. Governor’s role, Darr opted into the state insurance plan after he was elected to office in 2010.
Previously, he was on his wife’s plan — she is a teacher at a private school in northwest Arkansas — but a spokesperson for Darr said the Lt. Governor joined the state plan when he thought “there was a strong chance they would have to move to Little Rock after he was elected.”
The state’s health insurance plan, like other large group plans, is generally less expensive than individual or smaller group plans since insurance coverage risks are spread over a large array of participants — approximately 143,000 state employees, public school employees, retirees, their spouses and children combined.
Also, the state — as an employer — makes contributions to the plan, which can lower an employee’s out-of-pocket monthly cost from zero dollars for individual coverage to a maximum of $419.62 for family coverage, according to the 2012 rate chart.
OTHER CONSTITUTIONAL OFFICERS
Other constitutional officers all participate in the state health insurance program.
Secretary of State Mark Martin (R) enrolled in a state plan when he was elected in 2010 since his previous company was no longer in operation. Prior to his Secretary of State service, Martin elected private health insurance even though he could have opted into a state plan as a State Representative.
Auditor of State Charlie Daniels (D), who has also served as State Land Commissioner and Secretary of State, has been a member of the state’s health insurance plan since 1985, his first year in statewide office.
Daniels had state health insurance as director of the Arkansas Department of Labor and he had private health insurance when he was an employee of then-Arkansas Power and Light.
Treasurer Martha Shoffner (D), also a former state legislator and a one-time state employee, has participated in the state’s health insurance offerings throughout her different roles of public service. When not working for the state, Shoffner opted into private health insurance.
Commissioner of State Lands John Thurston (R) is currently on a state health insurance plan in his full-time capacity.
Prior to public office, Thurston was on a private health insurance plan through a church, which was his previous employer.
Earlier this month, Talk Business explored the subject of health insurance changes and experiences with 10 state legislators.
Statistics provided by the Arkansas Auditor of State’s office indicate that 82 of 142 state elected officials (135 state legislators and 7 constitutional officers), or 57%, are enrolled in a health insurance plan through state government.
Federal health information privacy regulations prohibit the release of names of individuals in the state plans, but as reporting shows, all 7 constitutional officers have opted into the state plan.
Seventy-five of the 135 state lawmakers, or 56%, also participate in the state’s health insurance offerings.