Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford returned to a panel of state legislators today to ask again for some sort of approval on applying for an additional grant for planning state health exchanges. Bradford met with an informal gathering of legislators last week who asked him to return with a detailed budget as to how that grant would be spent and the amount of the grant. This week, the meeting was under the organization of the Joint Committee on Advanced Communications and Information Technology; however; it is unclear what authority – if any – this committee has to give the executive branch authority to apply for the grant.
The budget presented to the committee was for a total of $3,793,213. This is largely made up of $3,349,250 for consultant/contractors with $1.5 million earmarked for a "public education campaign." Another $315,119 will go to salary expenses of insurance department employees working on the planning for the exchanges and $87,844 for travel and other administrative expenses.
A major point of discussion, particularly with Republican House Leader John Burris and Bradford, was who had authority to authorize the grant. Burris insisted that the legislature could only express its opinion on the grant, while the sole authority to authorize the grant rests with Gov. Beebe. However, Bradford insisted that the governor would not move forward without some sort of support from the legislature.
Rep. Mike Patterson (D-Piggott), who chaired the meeting, indicated that he was satisfied with the budget submitted by Bradford and felt they should move forward. Later, he said this would not take place without "support from both sides."
It was difficult to follow actually who Bradford was appealing to in asking for approval. Was he asking legislators to call, email, and write letters to the governor expressing their opinion? I asked Burris to clarify exactly whose approval the governor was seeking on the grant proposal – the legislature as a whole, certain committees, or individual legislators.
"I think he would be satisfied with a letter from me," responded Burris. "But this is the governor’s decision, not ours."
Spokesman for the governor’s office, Matt DeCample, tells me that Gov. Beebe feels like the state legislature indicated during the session they are opposed to the exchanges. However, he said Beebe was approached by leaders in the business community, including the state chamber of commerce, and asked to reconsider. But before he proceeds, he wants "some indication from the legislators who were adamant that Rep. Allen’s bill (setting up the state health care exchanges) not pass and held up the insurance commission budget" that they have changed their minds.
The governor’s office did not indicate exactly what they envisioned receiving from the legislature other than "a sturdy sign of conscience" and they particularly wanted to hear this from the House, since that is where the legislation stalled during the session. DeCample said they were fine with receiving a letter, a group letter, meetings, or even emails from House leaders.