- Associated Press - Thursday, September 24, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday he wants Arkansas to halt work on setting up its own insurance exchange for consumers while lawmakers look at the future of the state’s hybrid Medicaid expansion.

The Republican governor said he’s asked the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace board to wait for a legislative task force’s recommendations on the “private option” expansion later this year.

“The federal exchange that we currently operate under is proven and it’s working. The state exchange is unknown and carries risks with it,” Hutchinson told an advisory council he formed to look at changes to the expansion. “It is not clear that the individual state exchange is needed, depending upon the reforms that are adopted by the Legislature.”

The exchange was created under the federal health care overhaul for consumers to purchase insurance. Arkansas is relying on the federal exchange but was given conditional approval earlier this year to transition to a state exchange. The state is using a nearly $100 million federal grant to set up its exchange, which had been expected to be set up for individual consumers in 2017. More than 57,000 Arkansas consumers are receiving tax credits to purchase insurance through the exchange.

Hutchinson last month questioned the need for a state exchange as he announced support for keeping the expansion if the federal government allows Arkansas to impose new eligibility and benefit limits on the private option. Under the private option, Arkansas uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents.

Hutchinson told U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell in a letter dated Wednesday that he thought delaying the exchange would be the wisest approach. Hutchinson said the changes he’s seeking to the private option, which include requiring some participants to pay premiums and eliminating non-emergency transportation, wouldn’t require a state-run exchange.

“Whether it’s state money or federal money, there’s no sense in building something we don’t need,” Hutchinson said before Thursday’s meeting.

A spokeswoman for the marketplace declined to comment on Hutchinson’s request.

Hutchinson said his request would not affect the state’s plans to move forward with setting up its exchange for small businesses this fall.

Hutchinson’s request comes a little more than a week after a legislator co-chairing the marketplace’s oversight committee asked the exchange to hold off on looking at vendors for its information technology services.

Hutchinson also told the council that a consultant hired by the state Department of Human Services said his proposal to require private option participants to go on their employers’ health plans if available would save about $29 million a year. Under that proposal, the private option program would provide assistance for deductibles and co-payments for about 7,700 people.


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