State set to lose $80 mil­lion in un­used in­surer ex­change grant

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - ANDY DAVIS

The state agency re­spon­si­ble for Arkansas’ health in­surance ex­changes ex­pects to lose ac­cess to about $80 mil­lion when a fed­eral grant ex­pires at the end of this year, agency of­fi­cials told law­mak­ers on Thurs­day.

The money is from a $99.9 mil­lion grant awarded to the Arkansas Health In­surance Mar­ket­place in 2014 to build ex­changes where in­di­vid­ual con­sumers and small busi­nesses could shop for health plans.

The mar­ket­place, cre­ated by the Leg­is­la­ture in 2013, set up the small busi­ness ex­change in 2015.

But at the re­quest of Gov. Asa Hutchin­son dur­ing his first year in of­fice, the mar­ket­place scrapped its plan to use the re­main­ing grant money to es­tab­lish an en­roll­ment sys­tem for in­di­vid­ual con­sumers.

In­stead, the agency took over re­spon­si­bil­ity for cer­ti­fy­ing the plans sold on the in­di­vid­ual ex­change and pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion to con­sumers while con­tin­u­ing to rely on the fed­eral en­roll­ment sys­tem al­low­ing con­sumers to sign up through health­care.gov.

An­gela Lowther, the mar­ket­place’s act­ing di­rec­tor, said Thurs­day the agency has spent about $20 mil­lion in grant money so far, and ex­pects to spend about $1 mil­lion more by the end of the year.

At a meet­ing of the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil’s Arkansas Health In­surance Mar­ket­place Over­sight Sub­com­mit­tee, Lowther said re­stric­tions on the grant make it un­likely the mar­ket­place will spend the re­main­ing money un­less the state de­cides it wants to build its own en­roll­ment sys­tem for in­di­vid­ual con­sumers af­ter all.

Even that would likely re­quire fed­eral of­fi­cials to grant an ex­ten­sion al­low­ing the money to be spent af­ter the end of this year.

“The chances are not good that they would ap­prove that,” Lowther said.

Lowther spoke dur­ing the first meet­ing of the sub­com­mit­tee, which was cre­ated this year to study and mon­i­tor the mar­ket­place and make rec­om­men­da­tions on its fu­ture.

Leg­is­la­tion passed dur­ing a spe­cial ses­sion this year gave those du­ties to the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil and abol­ished the Arkansas Health In­surance Mar­ket­place Leg­isla­tive Over­sight Com­mit­tee, which had been re­spon­si­ble for mon­i­tor­ing the mar­ket­place.

Sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man Rep. Deb­o­rah Fer­gu­son, D-West Mem­phis, said af­ter the meet­ing she wasn’t trou­bled by the prospect of the state los­ing the re­main­ing grant money.

She noted in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court up­held the au­thor­ity of the fed­eral govern­ment to sub­si­dize cov­er­age for con­sumers in states that didn’t set up their own ex­changes.

“That sort of made the de­ci­sion for us that we would stay with the fed­eral ex­change, and not move for­ward with the in­di­vid­ual ex­change,” Fer­gu­son said.

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