LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas lawmakers on Tuesday approved spending nearly $16.5 million in federal funds to continue setting up a marketplace where more than 500,000 people can shop for insurance under the health care law.
The Arkansas Legislative Council approved spending two grants from the federal government for Arkansas to set up its insurance exchange. The state has received more than $43 million in federal funds for the exchange.
The panel, which meets when the Legislature isn't in session, approved the grants on a 23-9 vote despite objections from some Republicans lawmakers over implementing the health care law in the state.
"The concerns are the same as they've always been. We're taking a lot of federal dollars that the federal government doesn't have, and I'm wondering how wisely we're spending those dollars," said Rep. Debra Hobbs, R-Rogers, who voted against the grants.
Cynthia Crone, who leads the Insurance Department's Health Benefits Exchange Partnership division, said the funds will help the state as it moves toward the start of open enrollment for the exchange in October. The state this summer is hiring more than 600 people to help enroll people for the insurance exchange.
"I think our state has done a tremendous job," Crone told reporters after the hearing. "The team that's working has done well, the contractors have done well. We are a leader among the partnership states."
Arkansas is one of seven states using the partnership model for running its health exchange.
Under the partnership models, the federal government will be responsible for several areas, including eligibility determinations, enrollment of individuals and operating the call center. The state will determine criteria for certifying health insurance plans, monitoring plans for continued participating, providing direct consumer outreach and education and providing consumer complaint resolution.
About half of the people who will buy insurance through the exchange are doing so under a plan lawmakers approved earlier this year to purchase private insurance for low-income residents using federal Medicaid funds. The "private option" was approved as an alternative to expanding Medicaid's enrollment under the health care law.