Panel endorses use of $400,000 for health exchange meetings


LITTLE ROCK — A legislative panel Thursday endorsed a request by the state Minority Health Commission to use $383,624 in federal funds to pay for 21 meetings to educate the public on the state’s health exchange.

The money also will be used to pay 10 guides who will work with the commission to enroll participants in an insurance plan.

A little more than 500 guides are expected to be in place before enrollment in the exchange begins Oct. 1. Coverage will begin Jan. 1, when the federal mandate for almost all Americans to have health insurance takes effect under the Affordable Care Act.

The guides will be employed by various Arkansas-based organizations that have entered into contracts with the state Insurance Department. The federal government has awarded the state $17 million in grants to cover the contracts, which the state is awarding based on an estimated wage for the guides of $12 per hour, although the individual vendors will set the actual wages.

During Thursday’s meeting of the Subcommittee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, Rep. Stephen Meeks, R-Greenbrier, asked if the 10 guides who would work with the Minority Health Commission in the more than 500 being funded through the federal grant.

Amanda Spice with the state Insurance Department said they were part of the more than 500.

Also during the meeting, the panel was told that a request by Gov. Mike Beebe to use $250,000 from the “rainy day” fund to pay for an independent testing on a hog farm in Mt. Judea along the Buffalo River was pulled from consideration.

Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, said the proposal was pulled because the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, which is to conduct the testing, needed more time to complete its plan for the project.