LITTLE ROCK — In a vote along party lines, the Arkansas Legislative Council voted Friday to approve a $463,600 contract to plan what the state's role will be in a federally controlled health insurance exchange.
LITTLE ROCK — In a vote along party lines, the Arkansas Legislative Council voted Friday to approve a $463,600 contract to plan what the state’s role will be in a federally controlled health insurance exchange.
The contract was among 33 state contracts reviewed and approved by the Council’s Review Subcommittee earlier this month. The Legislative Council was asked to approve all of the contracts together.
Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway, asked that the contract be considered separately from the others because it was related to the federal health insurance reform law approved by Congress in 2009. A lawsuit challenging the law is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I think the importance that we have as far as the health insurance exchange, it’s important that we get the information out there on this,” Meeks said, noting that during the 2011 regular session a bill that would have allowed the state to apply for federal grants to plan and create a state-run exchange was defeated in a House committee.
Republican lawmakers have said the state should wait to see how the nation’s highest court rules on the health care law, or whether Congress changes it, before spending any money.
Rep. Larry Cowling, D-Foreman, chairman of the subcommittee that endorsed the contract, told Meeks that his panel spent 90 minutes discussing the proposal and that everyone had the opportunity to address their opinion at the time.
Addressing the Legislative Council on Friday, state Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford said the contract will not affect the federal health exchange, and that if the health care law is upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, the exchange would be run by the federal government.
Bradford said the contract with Cincinnati consulting firm First Data Government Solutions will allow Arkansas to plan its role and how the state will connect to the federal exchange.
“This will enable us to prepare our consumers … help transition them to the federal process,” he said.
Several Republicans on Legislative Council questioned the contract and tried to connect it with the federal insurance exchange before Sen. Percy Malone, D-Arkadelphia, asked that the committee vote.
The panel then defeated a proposal to vote on the health exchange contract recommendation separately from the others, with 28 Democrats voting against the motion and eight Republicans voting for it. On a voice vote, the panel then approved the group of contracts.