LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – Gov. Mike Beebe is leaving open the possibility that Arkansas may run its own insurance exchange under the nation's new health care law after initially saying the state would seek a partnership with the federal government, a spokesman said Friday.
Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said the governor planned to tell Obama administration officials that it may seek a state-run exchange, citing the federal government's announcement Thursday that states now have until Dec. 14 to set a course. The deadline had been Friday.
Beebe told Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius that Arkansas would partner with the federal government on the exchange in a letter sent Thursday, but DeCample said the governor planned to tell officials that the state may amend that plan.
"We're willing to keep that dialogue open in the next few weeks if the Legislature sees that as a more viable option," DeCample said.
The decision is a shift for Beebe, a Democrat who said Arkansas would not be able to run its own exchange, in which households and small businesses will shop for private coverage, after Republican lawmakers blocked efforts to do so last year. The state has since been moving toward a partnership model, and has received more than $27.7 million in grants from the federal government for planning one.
The partnership option allows states to handle consumer relations and oversight of health plans, while the federal government does the heavy lifting, taking care of enrollment and figuring out any taxpayer help that consumers may be entitled to. Beebe sent the letter opting for the partnership model before the Obama administration announced it would give states another month to decide on a state-run exchange.
DeCample noted that some of the states now opting for a state-run exchange, or at least signaling support, are Republican-run. The request for more time to decide came from Republican governors.
"I think just based on that and based on the Republican requests to extend the deadline he doesn't want to close off any opportunities," DeCample said.
DeCample said Beebe would need a "clear indication" from lawmakers that they support a state-run exchange, but it's unclear how much support it would have in next year's Legislature. Republicans won control of the state House and Senate in last week's election, with many GOP candidates vowing to oppose the health overhaul at the state level.
Republican Rep. John Burris said an exchange isn't a dead idea in the Legislature, but said lawmakers would be skeptical of any information from Beebe's administration after initially being told a state-run exchange was no longer an option.
"I think we were presented with 'the sky is falling' option, and that was clearly not the case," Burris said.
The renewed interest in a state-run exchange comes as Beebe is seeking legislative approval to implement another part of the health overhaul. Beebe supports expanding Medicaid's eligibility under the law and says the savings would help the state avoid cuts in services for the elderly.
Andrew DeMillo can be reached at www.twitter.com/ademillo
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.