LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Republicans who talk about wanting to limit the federal government's reach should reverse their opposition to a state health insurance exchange, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Thursday.
Sebelius spoke in Little Rock Thursday. She told reporters afterward that she found it "interesting" that Republican lawmakers would refuse to create an exchange as required by the federal health care overhaul.
Republicans have opposed the move in the past because they said it would undermine lawsuits from more than 20 states challenging the overhaul, which allows for exchanges where people could buy government-approved insurance policies. The exchanges are supposed to open for business in 2014. If Arkansas doesn't create its own exchange, the federal government will be empowered to create one for the state.
"We're not reaching into Arkansas," Sebelius said. "Republican legislators are saying, 'You run it, federal government,' which seems to me to be a bit different than the position they've taken politically."
A spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, said he's unlikely to seek a $3.8 million grant to research how to establish an exchange.
The bill passed by Congress last year also established tax credits to subsidize private insurance coverage for people participating in the exchanges. And it provided funding for states to set up the exchanges.
The bill itself is widely opposed by Republicans, and the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to review the legislation after multiple federal appeals courts ruled differently on whether the bill's mandate to buy health insurance is legal.
A letter from several Republican lawmakers asking Beebe not to seek the grant was a "strong indication" that there's not support from both parties for the grant, Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said Wednesday.
If Republicans refuse to commit to voting for the exchange, Sebelius said that Beebe "wants us to make sure that we put an exchange together for Arkansas."
She said she planned to meet with him later Thursday, though she hadn't scheduled any meetings with state Republicans.
House Minority Leader John Burris, one of the Republicans to send Beebe the letter this week, said he didn't think Sebelius should blame the GOP.
"I'm rather skeptical that the representative on behalf of President Barack Obama and the person in charge with drafting and implementing health care reform has any idea about what's best for Arkansas," she said.
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