Health insurers want to raise prices. What now?

By Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

The big news in health care this week was that most of the state’s insurers are asking for rate increases for policies purchased individually or through the state’s Arkansas Works program.

The bigger issue – rising health care costs, and the political system’s inability to address them – is not new.

The two Blue Cross providers are asking for 14.7 percent increases, while QualChoice Life and Health and QCA Health Plan are asking for increases of just under 24 percent. The state’s fifth insurance company, Ambetter, is asking for less than 10 percent and is not required to publicly disclose or justify that amount. The sixth insurance company, UnitedHealthcare, unable to make a profit, is leaving the market.

The Arkansas Insurance Department still must approve the requests. Commissioner Allen Kerr sounded skeptical in a statement released by his office.

Two governors: Hutchinson and Beebe

Govs. Asa Hutchinson and Mike Beebe
Govs. Asa Hutchinson and Mike Beebe
By Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

No two individuals are alike. This past week was a reminder of how that’s the case with Gov. Asa Hutchinson and his predecessor, Gov. Mike Beebe.

Hutchinson called legislators to Little Rock to raise $50 million to make the state eligible for $200 million in federal highway funds each of the next five years. His bill did that by relying largely on surplus funds and interest income, which some legislators thought was the wrong way and/or not enough. It was over in three days, and while it was probably inevitable that the governor’s bill would pass, it wasn’t always easy.

This was the second special session this spring. This first was to pass Arkansas Works, the program that uses federal Medicaid dollars to purchase private health insurance for adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Libertarians, Greens better choice than death

Hand with ballot and boxBy Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

The first line of an actual recent obituary reads, “Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond (Virginia) chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016, at the age of 68.”

If only she had known she had other choices.

Those would include the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, and assorted others.

Let’s focus this column on the Libertarians, Arkansas’ most active third party. If you’re not familiar, it’s the one that says it’s for less government and actually, really, really means it. The Libertarians would cut social programs, including the popular ones, and they support gun rights. But cutting government also means shrinking the military, and they also would remove government from people’s personal decisions, which means they’d legalize marijuana and end the drug war. The party’s chairman in Arkansas, economist Dr. Michael Pakko, describes the party as a combination of small government constitutionalists, anarchists who want virtually no government, and “minanarchists” who fall somewhere in between.

Back to Little Rock again

Editor’s note: A previous version of this column was headlined “Not paid by the hour” and referenced the fact that legislators aren’t paid that way. But they do receive per diem expenses – in other words, payment by the day. So this changes the reference in the beginning and the end.

CapitolBy Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

State legislators are heading back to Little Rock – for the third time this year.

This time, it will be for (hopefully) a three-day session whose primary purpose will be to find about $50 million a year in state funds to qualify for $200 million in federal funds over the next five years. Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s highway bill raises that $50 million mostly through surplus and “rainy day” funds, along with funds generated by the state treasurer’s office.