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Arkansas says it has a plan for health care law

Arkansas is well-positioned to implement the federal health care overhaul if it's upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and would be able to regulate a health exchange set up by the federal government, state Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford said Tuesday.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas is well-positioned to implement the federal health care overhaul if it's upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and would be able to regulate a health exchange set up by the federal government, state Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford said Tuesday.

If the law is overturned, the state doesn't have a plan for helping its 539,000 uninsured residents and it would be up to Congress to come up with a new solution, Bradford said.

Arkansas decided on a federal-state partnership for its health insurance marketplace, a key provision of the law, rather than forming its own exchange alone or allowing the federal government to step in and take over.

Legislators opposed to President Barack Obama's health plan in 2011 blocked a plan backed by Bradford and Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe to accept a federal grant to create its own exchange. But earlier this year, a legislative panel voted to accept a $7.7 million grant so the state can have some regulatory authority over the exchange and prepare for the technical aspects of putting it in place.

Bradford said that whether the high court bounces the law or not, the state will still have a private insurance exchange, which will enable consumers who can afford coverage to more easily compare rates - the "Travelocity scenario," as Bradford calls it. But that exchange won't help most uninsured residents.

Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, incoming Republican leader in for the 2013 regular session, said the Legislature will still have to act to put the federal plan in place.

"If it were upheld, I think the state would still have to pass enabling legislation. It didn't get passed in 2011," Westerman said.

Westerman said it hasn't made sense for the state to take steps to enact the federal plan because it could be overturned by the Supreme Court.

"I'd rather not spend my efforts on what the federal government may or may not do," he said.

Bradford said he's confident the state can meet federal deadlines if court upholds the plan.

"We've got a roadmap for that. If it's upheld, it's not a problem," Bradford said.

As for how to insure the nearly 1 in 5 Arkansas residents who don't have health coverage if the law is overturned, Bradford said the federal government will have to come up with a plan.

"At that point, there's not going to be any quick answers from anyone on my level. It'll all be up to the congressional level," Bradford said.

Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison, who said he hopes the law is overturned, said it is premature to plan for what happens if the court tosses the law.

"I think there has to be changes to the system," Burris said.

Burris said he favors parts of the plan that provide for interstate competition and providing broader coverage.

"The state has to look at ways to be creative and find solutions, but all of it has to come from the federal government," he said. "I think for the most part it will be up to the next president and the next Congress."

Democrats have a slim majority in both houses of the Arkansas Legislature heading into the November elections, but Republicans are confident they can take the House and Senate.

Regardless, Burris and Westerman said the state faces a big problem with Medicaid funding, something Beebe said is also a major concern for him.

The state has to plug a Medicaid shortfall of up to $400 million in fiscal 2013.

"Some of the things we're trying to do with Medicaid doesn't have anything to do with what happens with federal health care reform," Beebe said. "It's trying to contain costs, with or without federal health care reform because ... health care costs are really hurting our private businesses and it's hurting our state and our taxpayers."

"That's what I said all along when the feds were dealing with health care reform, I thought they ought to be concentrating on cost containment," Beebe said.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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