Health care reforms are a topic of frequent debate and remain at the forefront of consumer economic woes, according to myriad polling data.
Finding agreement on solutions is another matter.
As Talk Business blogger Jason Tolbert has reported during the past two days, Gov. Mike Beebe (D) and Republican legislators can’t find common ground on a health insurance exchange (HIE) for Arkansas.
Beebe’s Insurance Commissioner, Jay Bradford, wants bipartisan legislative support in his pursuit for new grant funding by a Sept. 30 deadline, but GOP lawmakers have said their input is not necessary, and if it was, they wouldn’t be supportive.
"As members of the Legislative branch of government, we regret that our role in this decision cannot be more direct," stated a letter signed by several Republican representatives and senators. "As you know, only approval of the Executive branch is required to apply for a Level I Establishment Grant… At this time, we oppose the Governor moving forward with any additional spending as it relates to implementation of the HIE."
That news has all but killed Beebe’s push for more federal money, much to the chagrin of a coalition of health care stakeholders who are supportive of the exchange program.
The coalition consists of Arkansas Hospital Association, Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, Delta Dental, Independent Insurance Agents of Arkansas, Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families, Arkansas Pharmacists Association, and the Arkansas Dental Association.
“Our coalition believes keeping Arkansas in control of the health benefits exchange planning process will be the best way to make sure an exchange meets the unique and specific needs of Arkansans,” said Bo Ryall coalition co-chairman and President/CEO of the Arkansas Hospital Association.
“Members of our coalition strongly believe Arkansans will be best served by a state-based health benefits exchange. Maintaining control of the planning process will avoid a federal one-size-fits-all approach and allow the state to develop and design an HBE that is tailored to Arkansans,” Ryall added.
Exchange planning will continue on a limited basis without new federal funding, but state insurance officials contend that the state will simply adopt federal standards as a result. Republicans argue that the state will still have a window of taking control of an exchange in future years.
WHAT IS A HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGE?
What is a health insurance exchange, also known as a health benefit exchange?
The new federal health care law provides tax credits for low-to-moderate income individuals who don’t receive employer health benefits. Typically, the income requirement is for those making as much as 133% to 400% of the federal poverty level of $10,890 annually.
The state health insurance exchanges allow individuals buying insurance with these federal tax credits a comparison site to health plans allowed in that person’s state.
Also, an exchange in Arkansas would spell out eligibility requirements for the credits, a menu of potential plans, comparative information regarding cost and other features, as well as serve as a portal for using the federal tax credits to purchase health insurance.
RURAL HEALTH STUDY
On another front, state health officials announced the launch of a new study of rural Arkansas health needs.
On Tuesday, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and 40 organizations have begun a partnership to develop policy recommendations that address critical rural health care needs in Arkansas.
Led by the UAMS Center for Rural Health, the effort includes representatives from traditional health fields, economic development, education, government agencies and for-profit institutions. Among the partners is the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, which will conduct focus groups across the state.
UAMS officials highlighted several statistics about rural Arkansans in a press release on the new initiative. Rural Arkansans:
- Can have life expectancies 10 years shorter than those born in urban counties
- Are more likely to be less educated
- Receive more Medicare or Medicaid
- Face a shortage of health care professionals
- Have more chronic disease,
- Are more likely to become teen parents