After more than an hour of debate, the House Insurance and Commerce Committee this morning approved the legislation proposed to merge the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace agency into the state Insurance Department.

Former Rep. Nate Bell, recently hired as interim director of the Marketplace, again presented his case for keeping the agency separate. He said it could operate more efficiently and at a lower cost. Rep. Deborah Ferguson, sponsor of the legislation, didn’t dispute some of Bell’s criticism of the agency’s past work, but said an 18-month study had led to the legislation to merge the agency and she still believed it the best option.

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Allen Kerr, head of the Insurance Department, said the state would do little, if any marketing, of insurance policies sold through the marketplace. Insurance companies that sell policies through the program will take care of that, he said.

The bill, already passed in the Senate, was sent to the House floor on a voice vote.

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