LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas will pursue a partnership with the federal government to run its health insurance exchange, Gov. Mike Beebe said Wednesday, after saying last month he was taking another look at the possibility of a state-run system.

Beebe sent a letter Nov. 16 to U.S. Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sibelius advising her that Arkansas would pursue a partnership exchange, but after the Obama administration announced it was extending the deadline for states to decide what course they want to pursue, in response to a request from Republican governors, Beebe said he would look to GOP legislators in Arkansas to see if their opposition to a state-run exchange had abated.

The extended deadline is this Friday. Talking to reporters on Wednesday, Beebe said the state will go ahead with the partnership option, although he said he believes the state can seek a state-run exchange in the future.

"The Legislature has not indicated any desire to do anything different yet, but they’re still gathering information and they may well decide that after this first year they want to go to a purely state-run exchange. That option, as I understand it, will still be on the table," the governor said.

Beebe and state insurance officials say a state-run exchange is the best option because it would allow the state to tailor aspects of the exchange to the needs of Arkansans. Republican legislators, who will control both chambers of the Legislature next year, say they have too many unanswered questions to support a state-run exchange, including questions about potential costs to the state.

Beebe said Wednesday he was confident that Arkansas would have more opportunities to opt for a state-run exchange.

"The information we’ve gotten from the feds (is), you can’t just change overnight, you have got to do some additional planning, but it’s my understanding that we can change going forward in the future if the Legislature decides that they don’t want the feds to do it and that they would rather have the state do it," he said.

Under the federal Affordable Care Act, every state is required to have an insurance exchange — a marketplace where people and small businesses can shop for insurance plans that fit their needs — by Jan. 1, 2014. States have three options: Run their own exchange, run it in partnership with the federal government or let the federal government run it entirely.


Reporter Rob Moritz contributed to this report.