Arkansas will not establish its own state-run health insurance exchange program, as opposition from the state legislature has stalled efforts to plan the state's program, Arkansas Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford announced Friday afternoon.
In a statement, Bradford said that the Health Benefits Exchange Planning Steering Committee, a voluntary advisory group appointed this spring to provide policy recommendations for an exchange for the state, which received a $1 million federal planning grant in 2010, had recommended that it and other similiar state groups exploring that issue disband. The state would not have been ready to implement its own exchange by the Jan. 14, 2014, deadline, Bradford explained.
Arkansas plans to now be use the Federal Health Benefits Exchange, as detailed in the Affordable Care Act, with enrollment to begin on Oct. 1, 2013, Bradford said in his statement. Bradford said the Arkansas Insurance Department would now focus on compiling with other elements of the federal health care law.
“The Steering Committee and I believe insurance is local and local regulation is preferable,” Bradford said. “This committee and the work groups have been a committed and wise group of individuals that are clearly driven by what is best for Arkansans,” Bradford continued. “Although disappointed with this outcome, I have accepted the committee’s recommendation.”
Bradford pointed to an option for states that don't adopt their own exchange program to partner with the federal government, which would allow the state to manage some of the exchange functions that have previously been under state control, as a possible path forward for Arkansas. He also noted that the state Medicaid program must be connected with the federal-run exchange program, a process that would have been paid for by the federal government if the state had developed its own exchange.
According to the Arkansas News Bureau, Gov. Mike Beebe announced in September that he would not apply for federal grants to plan the exchange until it had legislative support. He had received letters from Republican legislators asking him not to seek the grants, according to the news agency.
“What Mr. Bradford said today I thought had largely been settled when the governor decided not to apply for any additional grants,” state Rep. John Burris, a Republican, told the Bureau after Bradford's annoucement Friday. “I don’t think we need to move forward with implementation of health care reform until there has been a ruling from the Supreme Court.”