The Senate Insurance and Commerce Committee failed on a roll call vote to pass SB113 out of committee on Tuesday after a former state legislator lobbied against the bill. SB113 would move the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace (AHIM) into the Arkansas Insurance Department. The effort is estimated to save $2 million.
Former State Representative Nate Bell spoke against the bill proceeding and requested the committee wait a few days as a special request for him to talk further with them. He signed up as a representative of AHIM to speak against. In his testimony he said he had been hired at 4:00 Monday after approval from the board. He wanted a few days to talk more with the Senators and look through all the files.
When asked for a question for Conduit News following the meeting to clarify his new position, Nate Bell responded “absolutely not.” Requests for information or comment from AHIM has received no response. Bell is not registered as an individual lobbyist on the Secretary of State’s website. UPDATE – Nate Bell is the interim director for AHIM.
Bell has been seeking a job as a lobbyist on Twitter since at least June of 2018. Bell’s wife, Phyllis Bell, draws a check from state government as a Sr. Executive Assistant to Governor Asa Hutchinson. Her salary is $85,679.57.
Approximately 18 months have been spent studying moving AHIM into the insurance department. An oversight committee in December unanimously supported the cost cutting change according to Sen. Jason Rapert (R – Conway), the bills sponsor.
Current spending by AHIM is $2.6 million, and insurance commissioner Allen Kerr expects the costs for the insurance department to be no more than $571,500 a year to do the same tasks, according to reporting by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette from December. According to that same report, Rep. Deborah Ferguson (D – West Memphis) called out Director Angela Lowther for “duplication of procedures” and high salaries with further increases requested. Lowther submitted her resignation as the director of AHIM back on January 25.
The proposed law comes after the AHIM board was also looking to raise fees to one of the highest in the country on health insurance policies through the health insurance exchange on healthcare.gov.
With a 4-3-1 roll call vote the bill failed to proceed. 5 affirmative votes are required for passage. Those voting for the bill were Republicans Jason Rapert, Cecile Bledsoe, Mark Johnson and Jane English. Those voting against were Democrats Linda Chesterfield, Joyce Elliot, and Larry Teague. Missy Irvin was absent.
Nate Bell was a state representative from Mena from 2011 – 2015. Bell was elected as a Republican but later became an independent. Bell is an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump.
Bell started his comments trying to explain his past opposition to AHIM and the private option as a legislator to now working for them. He went on to say that the ACA (Affordable Care Act – Obamacare) is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, and we have to do the best we can with that situation.
Sen. Rapert commented in committee that AHIM had previously hired lobbyists to try and defeat moving AHIM into the insurance department. AHIM is a nonprofit organization created by the State.
During discussion on whether or not to honor Bell’s request, Sen. Chesterfield admitted she would ultimately vote for the legislation but wanted to give Mr. Bell a few days delay as he requested. Senator Teague and Senator Elliot also expressed support for giving Bell a few days in his new role.
Senator Rapert encouraged the committee to move forward with the legislation after eighteen months of study and that nothing new could come up to change the plans in place.
The vote taken on the bill was expunged so that the committee may hear the bill again and vote again at a later date.
Roll Call Vote:
Sign In Sheet – Nate Bell Speaking Against for AHIM:
UPDATE – SB113 Passed on Thursday, January 31 after failed efforts by Nate Bell to defeat the legislation.