Category Archives: Health care

Drinking from a fire hose to set pot rules

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

When you go to school to be a doctor or a pharmacist or a lawyer, you have to learn how to drink from a fire hose – do a lot of work and absorb a lot of information quickly while bearing important responsibilities.

Good thing that pretty much describes the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission, the appointees who will have a little more than a month to create rules for the growers and dispensers authorized by the Medical Marijuana Amendment, which voters passed in November.

The five members of the commission – which includes two doctors, a pharmacist and a lawyer – held their first get-to-know-each-other meeting Dec. 12. About all they otherwise accomplished was electing a chairperson, Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman, a surgical oncologist, and agreeing to meet again on Dec. 20.

Private option water torture

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

Voting for the private option was hard for many Arkansas Republican legislators, and every month – every dang month – it becomes harder to keep supporting it.

That’s because every month the number of Arkansans being served by the program continues to rise – past the 250,000 that was originally forecast, and now, as of the end of September, past 324,000 who are either enrolled or have been deemed eligible, or have been placed in traditional Medicaid because they were considered “medically frail.”

The private option is the health care program created by the Legislature in 2013 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Affordable Care Act – that’s Obamacare – was constitutional but that states were not required to expand government-run Medicaid to serve individuals with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty level. Given the choice, most Republican-leaning states said no to a lot of federal dollars, but Arkansas said yes, with a twist: Instead of simply expanding Medicaid, it bought those folks private insurance.

‘Tis the season for lawsuits

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

Every calendar year has four seasons, and so does every campaign year. There’s the filing season, when potential candidates decide to run; the primary season, when the parties choose their nominees; the general election season, which ends in November; and, tucked in its own little spot about now, is a fourth season: the lawsuit season.

Yes, ’tis the season when opponents of various voter-initiated acts and amendments try to remove them from the ballot, or at least keep their votes from being counted, by filing suit in the Arkansas Supreme Court.

This year, four initiatives have qualified for the ballot by gathering enough signatures from registered voters: a constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana for medical use; an initiated act that would do the same, with some differences; an amendment that would limit attorney fees and jury awards for pain and suffering in medical lawsuits; and an amendment that would authorize casinos in Boone, Washington, and Miller Counties.

Insurance hikes coming, fixes not

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

It’s hard to feel sympathy for a giant health insurance company, but Blue Cross and others will try next year to generate at least some understanding from state legislators, and they’ll probably succeed.

They’ll be doing this after the Arkansas Insurance Department last month required them to lower the rate increases they had requested. Those rates are for private individuals who buy their own insurance or have it bought for them through the state’s private option.

Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield asked for a 14.7 percent increase for its 213,955 individual consumers. The state told it to drop the request to 9.7 percent, which it did under protest. In a letter to Insurance Commissioner Allen Kerr, Blue Cross Senior Vice President Lee Douglass noted that the Insurance Department’s own private consulting firm had said the company’s request “appears actuarially reasonable” based on the increasing costs of health care. The company’s reserves have been decreasing for the past three years to $1,265 per insured member by the end of 2015 – not enough to pay for a day of inpatient hospital care.