Beebe names three to board of insurance exchange; public hearing held on private option


LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe made three appointments to the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace on Tuesday, the same day that state officials held a public hearing on the state’s plan for expanding health care coverage to thousands of low-income Arkansans.

The governor’s appointees are Mike Castleberry of Little Rock, vice president of network and business development for HealthScope Benefits; Chris Parker of Little Rock, a partner at the law firm Eichenbaum, Liles; and Annabelle Imber Tuck of Little Rock, a retired state Supreme Court justice and a public service fellow and jurist-in-residence at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Castleberry’s appointment expires July 1, 2019, Parker’s on July 1, 2021, and Tuck’s on July 1, 2017.

Every state is required under the federal Affordable Care Act to have a marketplace, or insurance exchange, where people and small businesses can shop for health insurance plans that suit their needs. Enrollment is to begin Oct. 1 and coverage is to begin Jan. 1.

Act 1500 of this year calls for the governor, Senate president pro tem and House speaker to make three appointments each to the exchange’s board.

On Monday, Senate President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, appointed to the board Steve Faris of Hot Springs, a member of the state Lottery Commission, general manager of Central Arkansas Telephone Cooperative in Bismarck and a former state legislator; Fred Bean of Little Rock, president of Bean Hamilton Corporate Benefits; and John Denery of Little Rock, executive vice president and director of life and health for Stephens Insurance.

Faris is to resign from the Lottery Commission on July 31.

House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, has not yet made his appointments.

Also Tuesday, the state Department of Human Services held a public hearing at the University of Arkansas for Medicaid Sciences in Little Rock on the agency’s proposed application for a federal Medicaid waiver approving the so-called “private option” for expanding health coverage.

Under the plan, the state would use federal Medicaid dollars to buy private insurance for people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level through the insurance exchange. DHS plans to submit the application to the federal government Aug. 2.

During the hearing, several representatives of community health centers asked DHS to drop a provision of the plan that calls for the centers to be reimbursed at rates negotiated with insurance companies — rates that could be lower than current rates.

If the reimbursement rates change, “there are likely to be layoffs of medical staff and a decrease in essential medical services, all of which would lead to decreased access and increased health disparities for our community residents. Worst case scenario, we could end up closing sites,” said Carol Raines, CEO of Boston Mountain Rural Health Center.

Sip Mouden, CEO of Community Health Centers of Arkansas, told reporters after the hearing that her organization supports the private option but does want the current reimbursement system to change. She said the proposed change is not required under the federal Affordable Care Act and was not discussed in legislative hearings on the private option.

“Can you imagine what it really takes to bring in physicians and nurses and dentists into these underserved areas where the private physicians have already been and left because they couldn’t sustain a business?” she said.

State Medicaid Director Andy Allison told reporters that “we’ll be listening to the full range of input as we work towards finalizing our waiver application in August,” including input from the lawmakers who crafted the legislation.

Another public hearing on the application is set for Monday in Fort Smith. DHS will accept written comments on the application through July 24.

Meanwhile, the group Arkansans Against Big Government is collecting signatures in an effort to place on the November 2014 ballot a referendum that would give voters the option of repealing the enabling legislation for the private option.