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Ark. insurance exchange rates coming next week

Andrew Demillo, Associated Press

Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, questions state insurance officials during a meeting of Joint House and Senate Committees on Public Health, Welfare and Labor at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. Arkansas insurance officials said they will release information next week about the rates on plans offered on the marketplace set up under the federal health care law. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- Information on the cost of insurance plans offered in the Arkansas marketplace created under the federal health care law will be released a little more than a week before consumers can begin signing up, state insurance officials said Thursday.

The announcement prompted the head of the House Public Health Committee to warn that lawmakers were unlikely to approve any further spending on marketing and outreach for the exchange until the rates are released.

State Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford told lawmakers he was confident the federal government would approve the plan rates for Arkansas' exchange, an online health market where consumers can get private health insurance, subsidized by the government. Bradford said he expected four insurers to participate in the exchange, which is expected to serve about 500,000 people.

"As of today, we feel very confident it will be signed by all parties," Bradford told members of the House and Senate public health committees.

About half of the Arkansans who will sign up for insurance through the exchange will do so under an alternative to the Medicaid expansion called for in the federal health overhaul. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe and the Republican-led Legislature earlier this year approved a plan to use the expanded Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance for low-income workers through the exchange.

State officials say they're still waiting on federal approval of the plan.

Rep. John Burris, the House panel's chairman, said he understood why the rates weren't coming out until shortly before open enrollment begins but recommended that Bradford hold off on seeking approval for any more marketing or outreach contracts. The Arkansas Legislative Council on Friday is expected to review a nearly $4.5 million contract to promote the exchange.

"I think you're going to have a hard time getting approval for any money tomorrow without knowing the rates," Burris, R-Harrison, told Bradford.

Bradford said he didn't have any plans to delay seeking approval for the contract, which would pay for television, radio and newspaper ads as well as billboards and direct mail pieces between Oct. 1 and March 31.

"That whole piece there is designed to tell people how to get on the exchange," Bradford told reporters after the hearing. "It's an educational process, and people are crying out for information."

When asked what would happen if the panel wouldn't approve the contract, Bradford replied: "I don't know. I'm a pretty positive thinker, so I'm hoping we don't have to cross that bridge."


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