‘Any Willing Provider’ Bill Passes Ark. House

February 24, 2005

Following emotional speeches about a lack of treatment options offered by managed health plans, the Arkansas House of Representatives voted to resurrect the state’s “any willing provider” law and open the plans to hospitals and doctors throughout Arkansas.

The Associated Press reported the House voted 80-13, with one member voting present, and 81-14 to approve two pieces of enabling legislation to revive the 1995 law.

The Senate previously endorsed the “any willing provider” legislation, which was opposed by big business interests, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc., who argued it could raise their costs of providing employee health insurance.

A spokesman for Gov. Mike Huckabee said that “in light of the overwhelming vote in the House,” Huckabee would sign the legislation.

The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Jay Bradford, D-White Hall, shared the story of former Rep. John Parkerson of Hot Springs, who is in a Hot Springs hospital undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.

Parkerson, who is insured by State Health Insurance Group through his service in the Legislature, is prevented by the plan from being treated at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences—a leader in treatment of his disease.

Bradford said Parkerson later declined to seek treatment at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences after strings were pulled on his behalf because he wanted to make a statement on behalf of his fellow Arkansans.

“He said ‘no dice. I will not take advantage. I want this for everybody,”’ Bradford said.

Rep. Mike Buris, D-Hot Springs, told House members that he went to UAMS with a kidney stone two weeks ago and was told the hospital was out of his network.

“We are a country based on freedom and we continue to fight for our freedom. I believe people should have the freedom to choose who their medical provider will be,” he said.

Arkansas first adopted the so-called any willing provider law in 1995 to allow any medical provider willing to accept the terms set by the insurance companies to participate in managed care networks. A court challenge has held up implementation for nearly a decade.

The two bills adopted by the House would give the state law a fresh start, following a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a similar law in Kentucky.

Supporters say the measures would give patients greater choice in selecting health-care providers. Opponents say opening managed-care plans to more providers will drive up health care costs and force some companies to discontinue offering insurance.

“Just because something looks good on the surface doesn’t mean it’s always good. We have to look at its intent and at its unintended consequences,” said Rep. Dwayne Dobbins, D-North Little Rock.

Rep. Jim Medley, R-Fort Smith, said he feared more choice for some could lead to less health insurance for others.

“The people we represent could find themselves without health insurance,” he said.

Rep. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, helped to broker a compromise with some opponents of the bill through legislation he introduced Monday with Bradford’s approval. Key’s bill would replace some language in one of the any willing provider bills to limit legal liability of managed care companies.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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