Friday, June 26, 2015

TOP STORY >> Ruling to continue subsidies

Leader staff writer

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Thursday upholding the Affordable Healthcare Act, commonly known as Obamacare, will ensure continuation of the state’s insurance expansion — at least for now.

The court’s decision allows federal subsidies to continue. A ruling against Obamacare would have ended subsidies for states that do not have their own exchanges. Arkansas is one of 27 states that have established their own exchanges and have been eligible for federal subsidies, but their future would have been uncertain if the court had ruled differently.

Rep. Camille Bennett (D-Lonoke) calls the decision a positive one for the state. “It means whatever the task force comes up with be acceptable,” she said.

Bennett added that, if the ruling had gone the other way, it would not have done away with Obamacare. “It would have just made it harder to administer,” she said.

“It’s not going to change what we do here in any way,” Rep. Joe Farrer (R-Austin) said of the ruling.

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling in King v. Burwell was more about the legality of subsidizing Obamacare than the constitutionality of the Affordable Healthcare Act itself, which was reaffirmed in an earlier decision.

There are about 48,000 Arkansans receive subsidies under the state’s insurance program. Another 243,000 Arkansans are receiving care through an expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare.

A governor’s task force has been looking into options to the hybrid heath-exchange program the state is now using.

The state will continue to use it for up to the next two years, but the task force must present recommendations to the governor in December.

Farrer, acting CEO of North Metro Medical Center, and a member of the task force, said, “A this point, we don’t know if we are even going to have a state exchange. It depends on what the task force comes up with.”

Farrer explained that any plan developed by Arkansas would have to be a comparable program to the Affordable Care Act and be approved by the federal government.

Rep. Bob Johnson (D- Jacksonville) said he was not surprised by the decision since the Supreme Court ruled previously that Obamacare was a tax, and the government has a right to levy taxes.

“I’m for Arkansans having health insurance,” Johnson said. “We have to determine how we can keep them insured and not take away their insurance. The task force will have to change its focus.”

Rep. Doug House (R-North Little Rock) said the task force would find “the best possible health-care strategy for the state.”

He said the task force started working well before the recent ruling and was working without regard to whatever the ruling might have been.

“We’ve never concocted a possible strategy that had Obamacare going away,” he said, adding that everything could change after the next presidential election.

He said the state health exchange program has three goals: Keep hospitals open, steer those using emergency rooms for normal or non-threatening issues to doctor’s offices and give the state and individuals a quick and efficient avenue of health care.

House, who just returned from a three-week European vacation with his wife, suffered an abscessed tooth and had to see a dentist in Vienna.

“All I can say is that I really appreciate what we have here,” he said. “I’m glad to be an American.”

State Rep. Tim Lemons (R-Cabot) said he was disappointed in the ruling, but “I don’t know that it’s going to affect Arkansas.” He supports replacing the private option.

State Rep. Karilyn Brown (R-Sherwood) said she wasn’t surprised but did not support the decision.

She believes the country needs to get rid of Obamacare and get something new that is less costly.