by Chris Price
Each month, Arkansas Money & Politics will profile three professional associations to explore the business, industry, governmental and not-for-profit agencies impacting law, commerce and goodwill across the state. The magazine will tell their stories to give readers a better understanding of who they are, where they stand and the positions they are backing.
Arkansas Hospital Association
For nearly 90 years, the Arkansas Hospital Association (AHA) has instituted spirited programs in education, government relations, research and communication for the betterment of the state’s hospitals. It aims to be the trusted voice for achieving and sustaining safe, high quality, patient-centered care in a rapidly evolving health care environment and safeguard hospitals’ operational effectiveness in advancing the health and well-being of their communities.
The AHA serves as an advocate for its 103 member hospitals and health care organizations, representing their concerns and interests in a united voice to elected officials and regulatory agencies on both the state and federal level. Each year, the AHA represents members’ views to state lawmakers on dozens of healthcare bills through active lobbying at the Arkansas State Capitol.
Data from the last two years shows that the state’s hospitals provide approximately 45,800 jobs with an annual combined payroll expenditure of $3.4 billion, says Bo Ryall, president and CEO of the Arkansas Hospital Association.
“These dollars, earned by Arkansas hospital employees, generate approximately $5.4 billion in economic activity in the state, which creates an additional estimated 42,700 jobs,” he says. “These totals – when considered alongside the impact of the annual capital spending of hospitals, estimated at $652.8 million, and the annual impact of other non-salary expenditures, estimated at $5.5 billion – indicate that Arkansas hospitals are crucial to the state’s economic viability.”
AHA’s legislative staff works year-round to provide a powerful and effective advocacy voice for Arkansas hospitals and the future of the state’s healthcare system. The association represents the interests of hospitals before the Arkansas legislature, the United States Congress and state and federal executive agencies. In addition, the AHA’s office of general counsel serves as a member resource for legal information, represents the industry in regulatory hearings and judicial proceedings, and provides legal services and support to the AHA and its subsidiaries.
“At any given time, we are working on multiple fronts to protect the viability of hospitals and the health of our state,” Ryall says.
As health care delivery and cost continue to stir debate, protecting access to care is at the heart of the AHA’s mission.
“Under the Affordable Care Act, Arkansas has seen a drop of greater than 60 percent in its uninsured rate – the largest drop of any state in the country. The Health Insurance Marketplace, Medicaid Expansion coverage, and related ACA protections have become important features of health care in the state and are depended upon by more than 250,000 Arkansans,” Ryall says. “We strongly support protection of the gains in affordable coverage achieved through the ACA and urge that Medicaid expansion be defended in Congress and the courts. We believe that any changes affecting the ACA must be guided by the principle of continuing to provide health-care coverage for the tens of millions of Americans who have benefitted from new health-care coverage under provisions of the ACA.
“As the backbone of America’s health safety net, it is incumbent on hospitals and health systems to protect access to care for patients and communities and to ensure that the most vulnerable of those people – a group that includes children, the elderly, the disabled, and those with pre-existing conditions – are not left behind. Structural and financial access to care at Arkansas’ hospitals is an essential and central component of the health-care system our state depends upon. Population health, citizen happiness, and economic prosperity all hinge upon adequate access to hospital care.”
Arkansas Advanced Energy Association
One only need look at the tremendous strides being made in solar energy advances at the University of Arkansas and the products and companies that have developed based off that research to know how fast the market is expanding. And that’s in just one corner of the state. As the technology for non-traditional fuel sources has improved and lowered costs, the demand for secure, clean and affordable energy has increased. So, too, have the number of advanced energy companies and their need for a collective voice.
“The Arkansas Advanced Energy Association is dedicated to growing Arkansas’ economy through expanded utilization of advanced energy technologies and efficiencies, including solar, wind and hydro-electric power generation, electric vehicles, alternative fuels and a smart electrical grid,” says AAEA Executive Director Katie Niebaum. “We represent utilities companies and professionals, including engineers, architects, startup entrepreneurs and those involved and interested in the advanced energy economy, which represent an industry of about 25,000 employees and a $2.8 billion economic impact across the state.”
Founded in 2012, the association engages in policy advocacy at the federal and state levels and works with the Arkansas Public Service Commission on regulatory issues. Niebaum says the AAEA secured two key policy wins with the passage of the Solar Access and Arkansas Energy Performance Contracting Enhancement acts during the legislature’s 92nd General Assembly this spring.
The Solar Access Act removed restrictions on third-party financing for those looking to add solar technology, which is particularly important for non-tax entities, such as schools, churches, cities and counties, colleges and universities, state agencies and non-profit organizations. With the option of a third-party solar services contract, non-tax entities can take full advantage of federal incentives and lower the cost of their solar array.
Its approval could double or triple the number of solar jobs in Arkansas, according to a recent analysis from the Business Innovations Legal Clinic of the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
The second bill eliminated a 20-year maximum term on public entities’ energy contracts, which will allow a guaranteed energy cost savings contract to be extended if its active equipment warranty or combined useful life is in excess of 20 years.
Both bills are expected to further spur energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in an already growing sector.
“Arkansas already is among the fastest-growing states for solar job creation,” Niebaum says. “Arkansas’ solar jobs numbered 369 in 2018 as compared to 284 solar jobs in 2017 – a 30 percent increase. Only five states saw a higher year-over-year growth rate.
“In addition, the state had its biggest year of solar installation ever in 2018. Arkansas ranked No. 18 for the most solar projects among the 50 states last year, adding 118 megawatts of solar generation.”
Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association
In November 2016, more than 53 percent of Arkansas voters approved Issue 6, legalizing medical marijuana for 17 qualifying conditions. Almost a year and a half later, the program is still in the process of being implemented due to legal challenges. Shortly after the bill’s approval, the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association and Arkansas Medical Marijuana Association emerged as advocates for the new, budding industry. The two trade groups merged under the name the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association (ACIA) in December 2018 to form a singular, united voice for cannabis advocacy in Arkansas.
The ACIA is a 501(c)(6) industry trade association advocating for laws, regulations and public policies that foster a healthy, professional and accountable medical cannabis industry. The association’s three-pronged mission focuses on education, protecting patients and advocacy. It is governed by a 12-member board, made up of representatives from licensed cultivators, dispensaries and other cannabis-related businesses and promotes legislative and policy advocacy, cooperative advertising and marketing opportunities, special events and networking.
“We are charged with protecting industry stakeholders and patients from overly burdensome regulations and laws that would infringe on access to medical cannabis,” says Robert DeBin, president of the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association board.
To meet that goal, the ACIA holds education seminars teach Arkansans about the science behind medical cannabis and how it treats the current qualifying medical conditions. The association holds seminars for health care providers – doctors, nurses and pharmacists – to educate them about medical cannabis and how it interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system. The sessions, often applicable for continuing medical education credit, are designed to help medical professionals have informed conversations about medical cannabis with their patients who have a qualifying condition approved by the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), including ADD/ADHD, anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, migraines, and more.
In addition to helping the medical community, the ACIA helps patients find a physician to write a medical cannabis certification and how to submit an application for a patient card to the ADH.
Another aspect of their mission is to educate those who want to join the cannabis industry in Arkansas, in particular, operators of dispensaries and cultivation facilities. Their education centers around issues with taxation, extraction, general business operations and security.
“Knowledge is the main limit to the success of the medical cannabis business in Arkansas,” DeBin says. “The more that patients, physicians, industry professionals and regulators know about medical cannabis, the better off the industry will be.”