Panel endorses $18 million grant for health exchange preparation


LITTLE ROCK — The Legislative Council on Friday endorsed accepting an $18.6 million grant to proceed with a federal health insurance exchange.

The panel approved the measure as part of a group of grants considered together, brushing aside calls that the health reform initiative be considered separately.

The grant had been endorsed by a subcommittee of Legislative Council last week and was referred to the full committee for approval. Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison, tried to get the grant separated from the other grants being considered, but the panel rejected his request in a 29-17 vote.

After the vote to deny his request, Burris expressed his disappointment.

“As a result of the previous motion failing, a lot of us now have no option … we have to vote against a variety of things in a large report simply because you would not extend a courtesy to pull out a controversial item and consider it separately,” Burris said. “I guess I would say one simple thing, and that is that in 30 days when the balance of this Legislature is not what it is today, and somebody else has a procedural motion, I don’t care what party you are, I will vote for the procedural motion because that is a courtesy in which we should all extend to each other.

“I find that very, very discouraging because I thought we were better than that,” he said.

Under the federal Affordable Care Act, nearly everyone is required to have health insurance and every state is required to have a health insurance exchange where people can shop for insurance plans that suit their needs.

Republicans oppose the state’s receiving any federal grant money to begin implementation of the insurance exchange until the Legislature can consider the issue when it goes into session in January with a Republican majority.

Democrats are the majority on the council but Republicans will have the majority when the new General Assembly convenes in January.

On Friday, the Legislative Council endorsed receiving the $18.6 million federal grant to continue building an insurance exchange — a crucial part of the Affordable Care Act.

Earlier this month, Gov. Mike Beebe said he planned to pursue a partnership with the federal government to run the exchange. He said in November that he was taking another look at the possibility of a state-run system, but Republicans did not warm to the idea after the Obama administration extended the deadline for states to decide.