Injunction lifted against any-willing-provider law

Health plans appealed the ruling, but Arkansas officials are optimistic that the 1995 measure will withstand the challenge.

By Tanya Albert amednews correspondent — Posted March 15, 2004

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Physicians in Arkansas who have been blocked from joining health plan networks in the past are being encouraged to start the application process again.

U.S. District Judge James Moody in the Eastern District of Arkansas in February lifted an injunction against the state's any-willing-provider law, which requires health plans to include on their panels any physician who meets their requirements.

Arkansas health plans challenged the ruling. They argue that the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act should preempt the state law. Opening health plan networks to include all doctors would increase costs, they say. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is considering their request.

"I know that the legal fight over this law is not over," said Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe. "However, with the strength of our position reinforced by Judge Moody's order, I'm encouraged that our any-willing-provider law will withstand any continued legal challenges."

The Arkansas Medical Society is encouraging physicians to request health plan applications now because Arkansas law gives insurers 180 days to process applications.

"We expect a court decision sooner rather than later, and physicians would have the process under way," said David Wroten, AMS assistant executive vice president.

The Arkansas Legislature passed the any-willing-provider law as part of the Patient Protection Act in 1995. But in 1998, the federal court said the state could not enforce the law and issued a permanent injunction against it.

A decision last year by the U.S. Supreme Court made state officials optimistic that they ultimately could enforce the law. The high court ruled that ERISA did not preempt a similar law in Kentucky.

The high court ruling spurred Beebe to ask the federal court in Arkansas to take another look at the state law. "I am pleased but not surprised by Moody's order," he said. Arkansas residents now have "the rights they need to choose the doctors and hospitals that are best for them."

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