Proposed Trauma Center Funding Fails in Ark. Legislative Committee

April 4, 2007

Another attempt to fund a statewide trauma center system in Arkansas by adding a tax to insurance policies failed to win the endorsement of a legislative conference committee April 2, effectively killing it.

A proposal by Senate President Jack Critcher would have placed a quarter of 1 percent tax increase on insurance policies throughout the state, exempting fixed life insurance policies. The premium increase, coupled with a $50 fee on drunken-driving convictions, would have raised $15 million for the system.

In a rare conference committee, senators endorsed the measure but House members roundly rejected the tax increase, as Rep. Chris Thyer noted the House only narrowly passed a recent bill putting a 1 percent tax on retail beer sales.

“It’s not going to pass,” said Thyer, D-Jonesboro, arguing off-microphone with Rep. Denny Sumpter, the bill’s sponsor. “There’s no sense to jump through all of these gyrations.”

The decision by House members doomed the measure from winning a floor vote this session.

Sumpter, D-West Memphis, noted studies showing that the presence of a unified trauma system in Arkansas could have saved 200 lives a year.

“It means another 400 lives,” he said, saying the measure wouldn’t be brought up until the next session, two years away.

The insurance premium increase was the third suggested funding source for the program, following plans to increase fines for moving violations and drunken-driving convictions and placing a $1-a-month fee on every automobile insured in the state. The House voted to approve the bill with the fines while the Senate wanted the monthly insurance charge.

The House and Senate launched a conference committee last week to reach an agreement on how to fund the system, as Gov. Mike Beebe said he would not support the $1 monthly fee.

With the $15 million, officials could have set up a system with one Level One hospital providing the best care available and hospitals in the state’s four geographic areas offering the next tier of care.

The system also would include The Med in Memphis, Tenn., which currently provides trauma care to many of the most seriously injured patients in Arkansas. The Med, which receives about $1 million a year from Arkansas, is facing a $10 million budget shortfall this year.

But while senators coalesced around Critcher’s proposal, House members were skeptical of levying an insurance premium hike in a session dominated by tax relief measures. As proposed, the premium increase would have meant another $1.25 added to a $500 policy.

Rep. Daryl Pace called trauma centers around the country “money pits” and said the measure needed far more scrutiny.

“I am concerned we’ll start down a path we can’t come back from,” said Pace, R-Siloam Springs.

However, Sen. Tracy Steele, D-North Little Rock, said “tax relief does a person no good if they have no health care.”

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