Health care, long one of the basic tenets of our society, has become a politically polarizing issue during the past few years. The rapidly rising costs of care are making it more difficult for Americans to obtain the health services they need. In Arkansas, we are taking action ourselves to control these expensive health-care costs. We are working with insurance companies, health-care providers, consumers and government leaders to bring about payment reforms we hope to begin implementing in 2012.
The most strident political debate remains on the federal level and surrounds the Affordable Care Act, which was passed by Congress last year and which is to be ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court next year. While its fate is unknown, this health-care reform is the law of the land, and includes new programs that states are required to follow and that will provide additional services for our people.
Among these programs are health-insurance exchanges, intended to foster competition between insurance companies and provide consumers with more choices for their health care. Under the Affordable Care Act, Arkansas is required to participate in an exchange. We were given the choice between setting up and operating our own exchange or deferring to the federal government to do that for us.
My preference was to maintain control of the insurance exchange in Arkansas, as much as possible, and not give control of it to Washington. A bill was introduced during the 2011 legislative session to give Arkansas that very control. However, legislative Republicans vigorously fought the bill, and voted repeatedly to de-fund the entire Arkansas Insurance Department over this issue.
To avoid the disastrous consequences of losing our Insurance Department, I agreed to abide by any legislative decisions regarding the health-insurance exchange and not supersede their decision by executive order. As a result, we missed the opportunity to control the exchange, and it will be set up by the federal government.
Now, our attention has turned to making sure that our consumers and state taxpayer dollars are protected as this insurance exchange is created. To that end, this past week, I endorsed Arkansas's involvement in a Federal Exchange Partnership. This partnership will allow us to apply for federal money that will permit us to meet our legal requirements using as little state funding as possible. It will also help to ensure that, as more Arkansans sign up for health-insurance programs, the premium taxes collected on those policies remain in Arkansas and don't go to Washington.
Insurance options are best modeled with local needs and perspectives in mind, and this partnership program will give Arkansas a voice in that process, even with the federal government in control of this exchange. The health-care landscape continues to change in America, and we are working to make sure that Arkansas consumers are protected. Rhetoric on this issue may remain heated, but my focus is on working toward a healthier Arkansas. I believe that will be achieved with policies and ideas that provide our citizens with the best care possible while getting costs under control.