Friday, February 14, 2014

TOP STORY >> Insurance still topic of debate in Capitol

Leader senior staff writer

Joint Budget Committee amendments that chip away at the state’s private option health care without dismembering it are slated for a House vote Tuesday, according to Rep. Walls McCrary (D-Lonoke).

Rep. John Burris, (R- Harrison) confirmed Friday afternoon that the vote, originally slated for Friday by House Speaker Davy Carter (R-Cabot), was rescheduled for Tuesday afternoon. Burris is Carter’s chief wrangler for the private option in the House.

Amendments to the Department of Human Services budget prohibit any sort of state or federal or grant money administered through the department to be used to advertise the private option using any kind of media — television, radio, print, online or direct mail.

Proponents say that through that prohibition, opponents hope that like a plant denied sunlight, the private option would whither and die.


But Burris said he thinks private-sector stakeholders, such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield, would step in and provide advertising and that it’s not an appropriate function of the state.

Still, Burris predicts a close vote in both houses, and said the Tuesday vote may only give an indication of that.

McCrary, a supporter of the private option, said he thought Carter had hoped to get the bill out of the House before legislators went home for a long Presidents Day weekend, where lobbyists and constituents might sway their votes.

Burris simply said it was always good to get a bill considered before leaving for the holiday.

In addition to stripping out as much as $500,000 in advertising, the amendment to the DHS funding made three other cuts to the rivate option, according to McCrary.

Burris briefly explained the three other amendments are designed to cut costs and to bring more votes for the private option into the fold.


They are: restrictions on non-emergency transportation, creation of health savings accounts in lieu of the private option and co-pays for some services for people earning more than 50 percent of the federal poverty level.

The state will have to seek a waiver from Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius to make the changes.

Burris said he thought changes would encourage enrollees to seek help first through their primary-care physicians, instead of showing up at the emergency room for a headache.

Burris said the enrollees will need to have a buy-in to make this successful. He said much of the co-pay would be associated with emergency room visits, especially unnecessary ones.

“ER visits and cost sharing should encourage good behavior by clients,” Burris said.

Preventative-care items would continue to be free to all enrollees, as required by the federal Affordable Care Act.


Some amended language reads:

“It is both necessary and appropriate that the General Assembly restrict the use of appropriations authorized in this act.

“Except as provided in this subsection, the Department of Human Services shall not allocate, budget, expend or utilize any appropriation authorized by the General Assembly for the purpose of advertisement, promotion or other activities designed to promote or encourage enrollment in the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace or the Health Care Independence Program, including without limitation:

(A) Unsolicited communications mailed to potential clients;

(B) Television, radio or online commercials;

(C) Billboard or mobile billboard advertising;

(D) Advertisements printed in newspapers, magazines, or other print media; and

(E) Internet websites and electronic media.”