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Newly Hired Insurance Marketplace Director Excited About Arkansas’ Innovation

LITTLE ROCK — The newly hired executive director of the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace said Tuesday she is excited to work in a state that is exploring uncharted territory with its approach to expanding Medicaid.

“Arkansas is paving a way. They are blazing a trail,” Cheryl Smith said in an interview with the Arkansas News Bureau.

Smith, the former director of Utah’s health insurance exchange, accepted the Arkansas job on Monday and will report to work May 19. The marketplace’s board of directors set her annual salary at $165,000.

Smith will be responsible for hiring and supervising a staff and will lead the effort to determine whether Arkansas would be better served by switching from a marketplace run by a federal-state partnership to a state-run marketplace.

The marketplace is an exchange, created in accordance with the federal Affordable Care Act, where Arkansans can shop for insurance plans that suit their needs and apply for federal subsidies.

Smith was director of the Utah Health Exchange from 2008 to 2010. The exchange began operating in 2009, before the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, as a small-group exchange. After the federal law was passed, Utah obtained permission to continue running the small-group exchange and let the federal government run the exchange for individuals.

“This is what I like about creative thinking. Utah was actually able to get some stuff written into federal administrative rule” to allow the division of responsibilities, Smith said.

Smith is now a consultant with Deloitte Consulting. She admitted that she is taking a pay cut to come to Arkansas.

“The money wasn’t nearly as important to me as the opportunity,” she said.

Smith said she is attracted to the innovation Arkansas showed in creating the so-called private option. Instead of expanding the state Medicaid rolls to include people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, as proposed by the Affordable Care Act, the state is using federal Medicaid money to subsidize private insurance, purchased through the insurance marketplace, for that population.

“I appreciate that kind of thinking. I want to be a part of it,” Smith said.

Steve Faris, chairman of the marketplace board’s search committee, said Tuesday he was impressed by Smith’s resume, which includes work in the Utah governor’s office and as staff to legislative leadership on health-care reform initiatives.

“She’s got legislative experience, which will help because she’ll have to go before (a legislative) oversight committee, and also she has, most importantly, experience of the subject matter,” Faris said.

Sherrill Wise, the board’s chairman, said in a news release Tuesday, “Smith has a well-rounded base of experience including strategy, policy, creation and implementation of health exchanges that we expect will prove valuable as we navigate through setting up a state-based health insurance exchange in Arkansas.”

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