NATE BELL: He's back.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports today that former legislator Nate Bell has been hired as interim director of the state health insurance marketplace agency, an agency with an uncertain future whose establishment he opposed.

Bell, a Republican-turned-independent chicken farmer from Mena whose wife, Phyllis, is on Gov. Asas Hutchinson’s staff, took the job with legislation pending to merge the agency into the state Insurance Department, which says it can operate it for less money. The job Bell took pays about $150,000, though terms of his employment aren’t finalized, he told the D-G. The current director, Angela Lowther, has announced plans to resign.

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Bell is quoted as saying the agency should be independent. It allows consumers (about 62,000 in Arkansas) to shop for coverage and receive federal subsidies for health insurance. It’s an outgrowth of the Affordable Care Act. As a legislator, Bell opposed the formation of the health exchange and backed legislation that prevented marketing of what it had to offer. Now he says it appears the Affordable Care Act is likely to be around for a while.

The bill to merge the agency fell a vote short yesterday. Sen. Jason Rapert said he’ll seek another vote. A member was missing yesterday, enough with Democratic opposition on the committee to stymie approval.

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