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Arkansas lawmaker asks panel to hold off on vendor request for state's insurance exchange


LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — A state legislator asked an Arkansas panel Tuesday to hold off on looking at vendors for setting up a state-run insurance exchange as lawmakers look at broader reforms to Medicaid and health care.

Sen. David Sanders asked the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace's board of directors to delay releasing to vendors a request for qualifications for information technology for the insurance exchange for individual consumers. Sanders co-chairs the marketplace's legislative oversight committee.

"There are still open questions and unanswered questions both in the policy in the short term and long term," the Republican from Little Rock told reporters after the oversight committee's meeting.

The exchange was created under the federal health overhaul for consumers to purchase insurance. Arkansas currently is relying on the federal exchange, but was given conditional approval earlier this year to transition to a state exchange. The state is using a nearly $100 million federal grant to set up the exchange, which is expected to be set up for individual consumers in 2017. More than 57,000 Arkansas consumers are receiving tax credits to purchase insurance through the exchange.

Sanders cited Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's comments last month questioning the need for Arkansas to move forward with a state-run exchange. Hutchinson last month said he'd support continuing Arkansas' compromise Medicaid expansion, but only if the state was given more flexibility to change the program.

Hutchinson said the state-run exchange may not be necessary if Arkansas receives approval for the changes he's seeking, which included new limits on eligibility for coverage. A legislative task force is expected to issue recommendations later this year on the future of the "private option" Medicaid expansion.

Sanders also noted the state still is awaiting a consultants' review of Arkansas' system for enrolling and checking eligibility for its Medicaid program.

Marketplace officials say they're facing a tight deadline to issue the technology contract in order to have the exchange up and running by 2017.

Cheryl Smith Gardner, the marketplace's executive director, said exchange officials can continue gathering information but it will be up to its governing board to decide whether to issue the RFQ. The board is set to meet next week.

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