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LITTLE ROCK -- A former lawmaker who opposed the creation of Arkansas' health insurance exchange has been hired as the interim director of the state agency that oversees the marketplace, and is taking steps to protect the agency's independence.

One of Nate Bell's first moves as the head of the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace was to urge members of a legislative committee to delay approving a bill that would fold the agency into the state Department of Insurance, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Republican Sen. Jason Rapert of Conway, who sponsored the bill and is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Insurance and Commerce, said he has concerns about oversight and marketplace finance.

State Insurance Commissioner Allen Kerr said the Insurance Department has many of the same responsibilities the marketplace does and could take over its operations for about $571,500 annually. The marketplace spends about $2.6 million a year.

Bell said he wants time to find an alternative that would protect the independence of the marketplace and address lawmakers' concerns. He said maintaining the marketplace's independence will allow the state to better react if the federal government increases fees on healthcare.gov, and also let the state to pursue alternative health care coverage strategies.

The committee rejected the bill Tuesday. Rapert plans to put the bill before the panel again today.

Bell served three two-year terms in the House. He was first elected as a Republican in 2011, but became an Independent in 2015.

State Desk on 01/31/2019

Print Headline: Former Arkansas lawmaker to lead state's health insurance exchange

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