‘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)

Some hospitals, though, are itching for AWP to get the green light.

“We believe that the state’s residents should have the right to choose the health care provider they prefer,” Scott Mosley, a spokesman for St. Vincent Health System, said in a statement. “We are ready to more freely compete and anxious to serve the needs of those who wish to come to St. Vincent who have, for years, been prohibited from doing so.”

“If people think that [AWP] will be without an increased cost, I would just suggest that there is no free lunch,” said Paul Berry, a lobbyist for the Arkansas Employers Healthcare Coalition.

He said AWP will raise rates on even the cheapest health insurance plans by 20-25 percent, which could add to the number of uninsured Arkansans.

But supporters said AWP hasn’t cost the price of insurance to rise in Kentucky.

“I was unable to find conclusive evidence that AWP legislation has increased costs for Kentucky insureds,” Elizabeth Johnson, an attorney for the Kentucky Insurance Department, wrote in a letter to Arkansas Medical Society’s Wroten.

The fallout from AWP also could be a flurry of new MRI clinics and specialty hospitals taking away business from community hospitals, said attorney Nick Thompson, who represents the Arkansas Employers Healthcare Association.

“So if you’ve got a law on the books that says the HMO has to contract with every single one of those entities, anybody can go out and build them,” Thompson said. “At some point you have an oversaturation of providers.”

Since Then ...

2014: In June 2005, the fight over the “any willing provider” law came to an end when the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld most of the act, resulting in the shakeup of Arkansas’ insurance industry. Under the law, providers that are willing to accept the same terms as contracted providers cannot be excluded from an insurance company’s network.

ABCBS spokeswoman Max Greenwood said in June 2005, “Obviously we’re disappointed. The whole reason we’ve been opposed to the concept is we believe it eliminates choices [among health plans] for consumers.”

After the ruling, insurance carriers statewide faced an onslaught of applications from willing providers. Hospitals and doctors that had been shut out of the ABCBS network, such as St. Vincent Health System of Little Rock, eagerly jumped on board, because ABCBS has traditionally paid higher rates than UnitedHealthcare and QualChoice of Little Rock.

There were mixed opinions, however, on how AWP had affected rates, which some projected to climb as a result of AWP. Greenwood said in 2007 that rates rose 2 percent from the first full year of AWP. But others in the health insurance industry said they hadn’t seen premium increases as a result of AWP.



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