Henderson calls for more health costs transparency

by Steve Brawner (BRAWNERSTEVE@MAC.COM) 279 views 

Democratic candidate for governor Jared Henderson Tuesday released his plan for controlling health care costs that included setting a statewide cost growth goal and creating a health commission that would collect data on health care expenditures.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s campaign criticized the plan for lacking specifics.

Henderson’s campaign said the state health commission’s job would be to hold insurers and hospitals accountable for providing care affordably. He said in an interview that an independent body would set the statewide cost goal with input from stakeholders.

Henderson also proposed requiring insurers and health plan administrators to provide patients’ estimates for the costs they would pay for medical procedures, drugs, and hospital stays. He also proposed that state employee plans publish reference prices charged by different providers. That reform would help patients choose lower cost providers and would pressure hospitals to offer lower prices.

In an interview, Henderson said transparency is a common theme of the proposals.

“Most of the ideas – not all, but a lot of the ideas – that we put here are meant to use the power of the state government to actually give people more information so that we can actually be a little bit more cost-conscious as consumers and as spenders of the money,” he said.

Henderson also called for ending an online reporting requirement by Gov. Asa Hutchinson for beneficiaries of the state’s Arkansas Works program. The state is removing 4,353 individuals from the program for failing to report they were complying with its work requirement.

Originally known as the “private option,” Arkansas Works uses mostly federal funds to purchase private health insurance for those lower-income individuals. At the beginning of August, the program covered 265,223 individuals. Earlier this year, Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s administration obtained a waiver from the federal government allowing it to require some recipients to work.

Henderson said ending the online reporting would protect rural hospitals that otherwise would have to pay for uncompensated care for those individuals who lose their health insurance.

Jamie Barker, a spokesperson for the Hutchinson campaign, said the governor had “fought for continuation of the Medicaid expansion to help low-income individuals have the health insurance support they need along with reform efforts to assure it is affordable and sustainable for the state.” He said Medicaid spending had decreased $22 million from the previous year, according to the most recent quarterly report.

“Mr. Henderson has no specifics and wants to spend more money without any cost projections or real plan,” he said. “His statement reflects a weak understanding of state government and what is really being done to protect health care in a rural state like Arkansas.”

Ray Hanley, president and CEO of Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, said most of the individuals had been dropped from the rolls not because of the online work reporting requirement but because the state simply can’t find them. He said the almost 300,000 people served by Arkansas Works “has done more to stabilize rural hospitals than anything in recent memory, and I’ve been at this for more than 30 years.”

“The majority coming off over the internet requirements are not using the hospital,” Hanley said via email. “They have moved, changed phone numbers and otherwise are unreachable. Little evidence has been shown by hospitals of losing patients’ coverage on this. The greatest protection for rural hospitals has been the successful, annual, 75% legislative vote to refund Arkansas Works – which Gov. Hutchinson has gone to bat for.”

Henderson said he needs to see documentation regarding why individuals are losing coverage.

“I think that the onus should be on the government to really show that people aren’t losing out on this because of poor and unnecessarily bureaucratic implementation of this thing,” he said.

Henderson also proposed restoring funding for the Department of Aging and Adult Services, which he said had been cut by more than 10% during Hutchinson’s time in office.

Henderson said that as governor, he would expand the capacity of opioid treatment centers and emphasize accessibility to treatment medication. He said the state should create a multi-disciplinary task force involving health care professionals, mental health experts and law enforcement.

Hanley said the state is already doing much of that.

“Nobody is doing more to educate and assemble coalitions to combat the opioid crisis than Arkansas Drug Director Kirk Lane, with whom AFMC is partnering on grants to further address the issue,” he said.

Henderson plans this week to visit UAMS, tour a rural hospital in Northeast Arkansas, and host a roundtable with nurse practitioners.

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