Arkansas governor urges caution on state exchange after US Supreme Court upholds subsidies

Economic Indicators Associated Press

Gov. Asa Hutchinson urged caution Thursday on Arkansas' move toward setting up its own marketplace for people to buy health insurance after the nation's highest court upheld the subsidies offered through the federal exchange.

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The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that the tax credits to help purchase insurance should be available to consumers in the 34 states that relied on the federal health insurance exchange clears a major obstacle for Arkansas' plans to set up a state marketplace. Arkansas is among those relying on the federal exchange, but was given conditional approval earlier this month to set up its own.

More than 57,000 Arkansas residents receive tax credits to purchase insurance through the exchange. Had the Obama administration lost its case, a state law enacted earlier this year would have required the Legislature to decide whether to move forward with plans for the new exchange.

"In terms of what this means for Arkansas, we will continue our work with the task force to find innovative solutions for Medicaid and health care reform," Hutchinson said in a statement released by his office. "I am convinced now more than ever that we need to proceed with caution to measure the costs to the taxpayers and the reliability of the outcome as we consider the potential of a state exchange."

Hutchinson and other top Republicans in the state said they were disappointed in the ruling, and kept up their calls for the health overhaul's repeal.

"The government must follow the law as it's written, which is why I believe the court wrongly decided to approve President Obama's unlawful implementation of Obamacare," Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton said in a statement.

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The Supreme Court's ruling drew praise from Democrats, who have been swept in recent elections by Republicans running primarily against the federal health law.

"Today, Arkansans were assured by the court that their new health insurance plans are safe," State Democratic Party Chairman Vince Insalaco said.

The decision comes as a task force is looking another key part of the health care law, weighing whether Arkansas should maintain its compromise Medicaid expansion. Lawmakers voted earlier this year to continue the "private option," which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for the poor, while the task force looks at alternatives for covering the more than 200,000 people in the program.

The co-chairman of the task force said the Supreme Court decision helps the panel as it looks at the compromise expansion.

"The fact is we've got clarity now in moving forward on this issue," Republican Rep. Charlie Collins of Fayetteville said.

Thursday's ruling was a relief for Bobby Gardner of Marion, who is receiving a $451 monthly tax credit to defray the $858 premium for a policy he and his wife purchased through the exchange.

"There's no way I could afford it without it and make a living," said Gardner, 55, who's about to begin working for his son's lawn care business. "There's just no way."

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