BY STATE REPRESENTATIVE NATE BELL –
Last week at publication time Governor Beebe had announced that there would not be a special session to address Public School Employee health insurance issues. However, on Wednesday, members of the legislature were notified that a special session was being called and that we would convene Thursday at 3 PM. Included in the call was the Governor’s proposal to seize local property tax revenues for benefit of the state general fund.
The three day session adjourned on Saturday morning at around 12:20 AM following the famous “midnight session.” During the special session we passed four bipartisan measures into law and successfully defeated the Governor’s plan to seize local revenue.
First and most important was funding to stabilize the risk pool. The legislature approved transferring $43 million from the GIF fund to the Employee Benefits Division. This transfer was necessary as healthy employees were fleeing the plans and taxpayers were headed for a HUGE bill if we were unable to retain healthy people in the risk pool. As you know, functional health insurance risk pools depend on large numbers of healthy people bearing the cost of care for small numbers of sick people. Years of EBD mismanagement had resulted in a system that was incentivizing healthy people to leave the plans and sick people to stay.
Three of the measures passed addressed the need to stabilize the risk pool and provide for long term funding of the plans. The fourth bill included reforms of the EBD governing board, which had grossly mismanaged the health care plans and had left us with the crisis situation that necessitated the special session. EBD reforms that passed were:
1.The current EBD board was dissolved and a new oversight board will be appointed that includes people who have insurance experience.
2. A deductible was added to the Gold plan to make it less attractive and to control costs.
3. Health Savings Accounts (HSA) will be made available in eligible plans.
4. There will be more educational efforts to ensure that plan participants are enrolled in the plan that is best for them. In most cases, this is the Bronze plan with appropriate utilization of an HSA.
5. Established a legislative task force to make recommendations for additional reforms that can be enacted in the 2014 Fiscal session and the 2015 General session. The task force will sunset in 2015.
There are a few folks who don’t understand why immediate action was necessary. Due to space limitations in this forum, I’m unable to address many of the concerns I’ve heard in detail. I’ve addressed frequently asked questions extensively on my Facebook page www.facebook.com/natebell4arkansas. You are welcome to read, comment and discuss question or concerns with me there or as always, call or text my cell phone 479-234-2092.
I appreciate the responsibility and trust you’ve placed in me by electing me to represent you at the State Capitol. I’ll always do my best to honor your trust and be a voice for our common sense rural values.