‘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)

“I had sat through as much of that crap as I could sit through,” Wilson told the Democrat-Gazette.

After Wilson left, the vote among the remaining committee members was 3-3, giving Bookout the chance to break the tie. He voted to move the bill to the full Senate, where it was approved, 32-1.

The lone vote against it was Wilson’s.

Gwatney’s bill had similar success in the House, where the vote was 88-1. Rep. Roger Rorie of Fox voted against it.

The Lawsuits

While AWP had strong support in the General Assembly, the insurance industry wasn’t going down without a battle.

In June of the same year, Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield sued two hospitals, three doctors and two medical clinics that had asked to be in ABCBS’ managed care networks. Then, a day before the Patient Protection Act was going to go into effect in July 1995, Prudential Health Care Plan of Arkansas sued the state of Arkansas to overturn AWP.

Enforcement was delayed as both cases merged into one and that case slowly ground its way through the courts.

The insurance companies finally scored a major victory in 1998, when U.S. District Court Judge James Moody in Little Rock issued a permanent injunction against AWP after finding that it violated the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Both sides appealed the ruling to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which agreed with Moody.

Similar lawsuits in other states that adopted AWP laws continued through the appeals system. In April 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an AWP law in Kentucky — one similar but not identical to Arkansas’ — was acceptable.

The ruling breathed new life into Arkansas’ Patient Protection Act — and into ABCBS’ determination to keep it from being enforced. The insurance company sued several hospitals and the state of Arkansas in U.S. District Court in Little Rock in hopes of preventing the Kentucky ruling from being applied to Arkansas’ Patient Protection Act.

ABCBS argued that the Arkansas law and the Kentucky law were too different for the Supreme Court’s ruling to apply to the Arkansas version. But the main difference came down to the definition of terms, said David Wroten, assistant executive vice president of the Arkansas Medical Society.



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