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State Capitol in review

The big issue in the state last week seemed to be insurance for both the public school employees and for the Obamacare program.

Gov. Mike Beebe is delaying the enrollment period for the health insurance plan for public school employees for a month to give lawmakers, teachers and administrators some breathing room to try to reach a consensus on both short-term and long-range fixes for the financially ailing plan. If an agreement is reached, Gov. Beebe said he would call a special session to address the issue.

Without action, the health insurance premiums paid by public school employees will increase about 50 percent on Jan 1. Legislatives leaders said they hope to have draft legislation by the end of the week aimed at fixing the plan. Several legislators say they will have draft legislation by the end of the week but there needs to be a consensus on the proposal before a special session is called.

The rates came out for the Obamacare program last week. You can get information on the health insurance marketplace. You not only have to check the rates but then families, according to income and size, can get subsidies. This subsidy or coupon can be applied to any plan.

There are basically three plans – bronze, silver and gold. Each pays differently. However, a report released last week found that the average consumer in Arkansas would pay a premium of $275 a month for the cheapest available bronze plan, a plan designed to cover 60 percent of a typical patient’s expenses. Similarly, the average Arkansas consumer would pay a monthly premium of $351 for the cheapest available silver plan, designed to cover 70 percent of medical expenses.

The Arkansas exchange is expected to make subsidized coverage available to about 500,000 people, meaning that few people will pay the full premiums. Adults with incomes below 138 percent of the poverty level, $32,500 for a family of four, will have their premiums paid by Medicaid. Premiums on the exchange will vary on the basis of age and regions within states.

Plans can be shopped online. The enrollment dates started Oct. 1 and goes through the end of March with coverage starting Jan. 1. Under Obamacare everyone is required to have insurance through one source or another or pay a penalty.

The Arkansas attorney general has joined with attorneys general from 39 states urging the federal administration to implement restrictions on the advertising of e-cigarettes and to prohibit the sale of the products to minors. Arkansas already prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. The e-cigarettes are a battery operated products that heat liquid nicotine derived from tobacco plants into a vapor that is inhaled by the user. Advertising is implying that e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to smoking even though the health effects have not been fully studied.

The University of Arkansas and John Brown University are moving forward with programs to help meet a regional and national demand for nurses with a bachelor’s degree. Some programs in the state are for pre-nursing and an online program is open to registered nurses seeking a bachelor’s degree. It started last year at the University of Arkansas.

The nursing program at John Brown will have 48 freshman spots for pre-nursing program, each year. The institute of medicine recommends that 80 percent of the nation’s nursing workforce have a bachelor of science in nursing by 2020. University of Arkansas - Fort Smith has a bachelor of science in nursing program and just received $50,000 to use to purchase more equipment for the program. The money came from the state as part of Arkansas’ share of a court settlement last year with a pharmaceutical manufacturer.

If you would like to contact me, email me at bruce.holland@senate.ar.gov or call my office at 650-1884 or write me at P.O. Box 2387,

Greenwood, AR. 72936.

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