‘Any Willing Provider' Bill Returns, This Time Without Wilson Off to Races

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Mar. 31, 2014 12:00 am  

State Rep. Jay Bradford, D-Pine Bluff, has switched houses but not sides in the “any willing provider” debate. (Photo by Michael Pirnique)

“What’s the fairness of a health plan if you can’t go where you want to go?” Gwatney told Arkansas Business in 1995.

Rebsamen Regional Medical Center in Jacksonville was his constituents’ hometown hospital, but “a lot of people couldn’t go there for treatment because of their insurance plans,” Gwatney said.

His solution was to introduce the Patient Protection Act when the 80th General Assembly convened in January 1995. It wasn’t an original idea; AWP laws were popping up around the country.

Insurance companies howled.

Insurance costs would go up, they argued, because there was no reason for providers to discount their prices if the insurance companies couldn’t then steer patients their way.

Taking on the hospitals and insurance companies made Gwatney nervous, he said. “But I knew that the public would support this, and I knew that the bill wouldn’t hurt the large hospitals and insurance companies like they thought.”

Before the session, seven signed on as co-sponsors of Gwatney’s draft bill.

“That was a very, very hard-fought bill at that point in time,” said Jay Bradford, who was then a member of the Senate Public Health, Welfare & Labor Committee. He has since moved into the House of Representatives and chairs its Health, Welfare & Labor Committee.

Bradford, an insurance agent by profession, said work on the bill started months before the 1995 session started.

“In my district, I had a meeting with the hospitals, with the physicians, with the chiropractors, with all the providers,” Bradford said last week. Unlike the insurance companies, “they thought the patients ought to have a choice.”

In February 1995, on the day of the committee vote, Nick Wilson wanted to go to Oaklawn Park, according to a 1995 article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Wilson, who opposed the AWP bill, reportedly told committee chairman Jerry Bookout of Jonesboro that a vote needed to be taken by 11:30 a.m. because he was heading for Hot Springs.

But testimony ran past 11:30 and Wilson left, taking his “no” vote with him.



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