LITTLE ROCK — The four companies that have said they want to sell insurance plans in Arkansas through the health insurance marketplace are set to sign contracts on Monday, state Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford told a legislative panel Thursday.
Information about the prices of the plans should be available after the contracts are signed, Bradford told the House and Senate committees on public health, welfare and labor, though he cautioned that "when you see a premium quotation, it will likely be without any tax credits or any other subsidies, so when you look at those, you have to go through a formula to get to the bottom line as far as how it affects consumers."
Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison, co-chairman of the committee, suggested that the state Insurance Department may find it difficult to get legislators to sign off on more funding for efforts to publicize the marketplace until premium rates are known.
On Friday, the state Legislative Council is scheduled to review a $5.1 million contract between the state Insurance Department and a vendor for public outreach and marketing. The Insurance Department’s current $4.5 million outreach contract expires Sept. 30.
"I think you’re going to have a really hard time getting approval for any money (Friday) without knowing rates," Burris said.
Bradford responded that the federal funding for the contract has already been appropriated and that "all we’re asking is for review."
The marketplace is scheduled to begin offering insurance plans Oct. 1, with coverage to begin Jan. 1. The federal Affordable Care Act requires nearly all Americans to have health insurance starting in January.
Bradford told reporters after Thursday’s hearing that because Arkansas chose not to run its own insurance exchange, the federal government controls when the contracts are signed with insurance carriers. He said he hoped legislators would not hold up the outreach contract.
"It’s such a short period of time till Oct. 1," he said. "We really need to get to work. That whole piece of it is designed to tell people how to get on the exchange. It’s an educational process, and people are crying out for information."
Burris told reporters he understood why premium rates were not yet available, acknowledging that "when Walmart builds a store, they don’t put the prices on the shelf before the product comes in."
But Burris also said he saw no harm in waiting to review the contract.
"I don’t think it’s going to slow down anything. The marketing campaign to this point has been robust," he said.
The Insurance Department’s outreach campaign launched on July 1 and has used newspapers, television, radio, billboards, the Internet and other media to publicize the marketplace. The Arkansas Health Connector website, which contains information about the marketplace, has received 266,297 hits, according to agency officials.