The legislature has left the room, but insurance issues linger | Arkansas Blog

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The legislature has left the room, but insurance issues linger

Posted By on Sat, Oct 19, 2013 at 6:52 AM

AFTER MIDNIGHT: House Speaker Davy Carter begins the midnight legislative session to wrap up a brief meeting on school employees insurance. - GREG LEDING/TWITTER
  • Greg Leding/Twitter
  • AFTER MIDNIGHT: House Speaker Davy Carter begins the midnight legislative session to wrap up a brief meeting on school employees insurance.

It takes three days to pass a law in Arkansas, so the Arkansas House and Senate convened at 12:01 a.m. today to finish legislative action (thus meeting on three days) on a package of bills to mitigate a big increase in the cost of health insurance for public school employees. Done and done.

Short term: Surplus money will hold the increase down to 10 percent in the coming year. Longer term, permanent money transfers will bulk up the funds and steps also were taken toward structural changes in the program.

Short term problem: A system that is under-utilized already because of cost will be more utilized with ONLY a 10 percent increase?

Longer term problem: Apart from requiring deductibles on the plan in 2015, the long-term is mostly a commitment to finding a better way to do things and rearranging the nameplates on the deck chairs of the board managing the program. I was happy to see Rep. Jim Nickels' idea for a unified public employee insurance plan (city, county, state) added to the study agenda.

Here's the problem: There is only one simple, efficient and cost-effective means to deal with the dilemma of ever-more-expensive health care and the nation's shame of leaving millions without access. It takes only two words.

Single payer.

That is all.

PS — Some high drama was narrowly averted. The successful Tea Party effort to stifle equity by beating a bill to prevent a handful of property-rich districts from retaining overage from the state 25-mill base millage charge had the votes to get off of the committee table. But, on the second vote Friday afternoon, a critical voter was delayed by another meeting in getting to the session on time. That vote would have put the bill in play. Backers believed they had 11 votes to move the bill out of committee. On the floor, the House was about equally divided though the Senate votes were in place. The flights of oratory and division likely would have disrupted the otherwise speedy resolution of the session.

PPS — Not enough attention was given to the repeal of a brand-new state nullification law by Republican Rep Andy Davis to weaken regulation of discharge of pollutants in water supplying streams. That shameful bit of industry self-interest by a legislator who makes a living in the water treatment business got buried in the final paragraphs of most accounts of session business. Not enough credit was given either to the Arkansas Public Policy Panel and related parties who directed federal regulators' attention to the boondoggle. The EPA's prompt move to enforce clean water law forced the Arkansas legislature to back off. At least it didn't take federal troops.

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