Local & Regional News
7:11 am
Wed July 9, 2014

Legislature Looks at Implementing PT School Employee Reform, Marketplace Update

Executive Director of the Health Insurance Marketplace Cheryl Smith
Credit KUAR

State officials are working to implement changes to health insurance for public school employees enacted in last week’s special legislative session. At a joint meeting of the Insurance and Commerce committees Tuesday Republican Representative John Burris asked about the fate of part-time workers being removed from the health plan for school employees.

The director of the Employee Benefits Division, Bob Alexander, said the state has directed districts to help part-timers find state and federally funded navigators.

“They will merely direct the people to call one of the guides and then the guide can work them through the Private Option or the other options within the exchange,” said Alexander.

Burris responded, “I think that previously would have been a good strategy but for about two weeks now most of those navigators and in-person assisters are no longer employed. It would be preferable if y’all could get the FPL (federal poverty level), household size, and such just to let them know what they’re eligible for and then maybe who they could contact.”

Alexander followed-up on Burris’s comment, “I wasn’t aware that the guides were not currently in existence.”

There were over 500 In-Person-Assistants in Arkansas until the beginning of this month. But an amendment by Republican Nate Bell last fiscal session banned most outreach efforts. Bell, an opponent of the Private Option, offered support for its appropriation last fiscal session in exchange for limits to navigators and outreach.

Health Insurance Marketplace

The new director of the state’s Health Insurance Marketplace says legislators need to start looking forward to the possibility of major changes in how the marketplace functions. Director Cheryl Smith says in 2017 states can apply for what she characterizes as a blanket waiver from the federal government that could dramatically alter how the state provides insurance. Re-shaping the marketplace begins with the legislature's future decision to choose between a state-run or federally-run marketplace. Arkansas's is currently a hybrid partnership between the state and federal authorities.

Smith told members of the Insurance and Commerce committees she expects flexibility since federal officials have so far accepted widely diverging approaches, such as Arkansas’s privatized Medicaid expansion and Vermont’s opposite movement, toward a single-payer system.

“The degree to which the let Vermont go in that direction…whatever you decide to do, whatever the particulars are that you decide to do that should give you a good indication of how far they’re willing to let states go in this kind of innovation. I would encourage you to think big on this. This is not a small thing,” said Smith.

Any waiver request would have to ensure the same amount of people would be insured under an alternative model as were covered through the ACA’s federally subsidized plans. Smith says the state is making some of its first hires for the marketplace this week, and launching a comment period next week.