‘Private option’ insurance, steel mill plans progress

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 53 views 

Two bills that outline the framework for the Arkansas “private option” health insurance expansion plan have been amended, and Legislators also pushed forward a bill supporting the Big River Steel mill superproject.

SB 1020 and HB 1143 have been renamed The Health Care Independence Act of 2013. The bills’ sponsors include Sens. Jonathan Dismang (R), Paul Bookout (D), and David Sanders (R) as well as Reps. John Burris (R), Bruce Westerman (R), Mark Biviano (R) and House Speaker Davy Carter (R).

The amended bill flushes out details of a shell bill and covers eight pages. It charges the Department of Human Services to:
• Maximize the available service options;
• Promote accountability, personal responsibility, and transparency;
• Encourage and reward healthy outcomes and responsible choices; and,
• Promote efficiencies that will deliver value to taxpayers.

DHS is also charged with securing federal waivers and approvals for the changes lawmakers want to see implemented in order to use Medicaid expansion money to subsidize health insurance for low-income workers through a forthcoming health exchange.

“The program shall include premium assistance for eligible individuals to enable their enrollment in a Qualified Health Plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace,” the bill reads.

A provision of the measure requires DHS to promote insurance coverage in the exchange for children and parents currently utilizing the ARKids First program. Populations from 0% to 17% of the federal poverty level would be included. The program would also allow for cost-sharing in certain situations.

The bill requires the Insurance Department and DHS to promulgate rules for the new law, but mandates that they present the rules to the Legislative Council no less than 30 days before recommending.

There is an outline in the bill that also highlights a 120-day reduction in the insurance program if federal medical assistance percentages fall below certain thresholds, such as below 100% of funding in the first three years or below 90% in year 2020 or after.

As was previously reported, participants eligible in the private option plan must acknowledge that it is “not a perpetual federal or state right or guaranteed entitlement” and is subject to cancellation “upon appropriate notice.”

There is a provision in the newly amended bill to test a pilot program for health savings accounts or medical savings accounts during 2015.

In an effort to make pricing of the plans in the exchange competitive, the bill calls for at least two qualified health plans to be offered in each of Arkansas’ 75 counties. It requires those companies to participate in Gov. Beebe’s Payment Improvement Initiative, which has sought to bend the cost curve on Medicaid spending by shifting from a “fee for service” model to an “episodic care” model.

A previously discussed provision to limit an insurance carrier’s market share to 65% in newly eligible populations related to Medicaid is not in the bill.

SB 820, the enabling legislation for the $1.1 billion Big River Steel mill superproject, cleared its first two hurdles on Tuesday (April 2).

The measure, which outlines parameters of the major economic project, was approved by the Senate Agriculture and Economic Development Committee without a dissenting vote. The 8-member panel heard supporting testimony from the AEDC, lead investor John Correnti, and Osceola Mayor Dickie Kennemore.

Representatives of Nucor Steel spoke against the project.

The supporting and opposing arguments were similar to the discussion a week ago when a joint committee heard more than 5.5 hours of testimony about the project.

With the approving vote, the bill was sent to the full Senate for consideration. Senators suspended the rules and voted 26-6 for the measure.  It now heads to the House for consideration.

Also, a companion House bill is expected to be heard in the House Agriculture and Economic Development Committee on Wednesday.

Today (April 2), the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Arkansas endorsed Big River Steel.

“As an organization that represents some 1,300 businesses throughout Arkansas, we recognize the need to grow and expand industry in the state, particularly in areas that are struggling economically,” said Randy Zook, president & CEO of the State Chamber/AIA. “This type of project is a rare opportunity for the state to create a significant number of high-paying jobs. We strongly encourage members of the Arkansas General Assembly to carefully consider all the potential benefits of this project and vote to support the incentives to the Big River Steel project. … Every business deal carries risks, but these are reasonable risks.”