Friday, March 9, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – When the legislature passed a balanced budget law for next year, it signaled the successful completion of the 2018 fiscal session.
            A few minor details were left to be finished, and official adjournment was scheduled for March 12. The governor planned to call a special session the following day, for lawmakers to work on a problem faced by local pharmacies whose reimbursements have dropped sharply since the beginning of the year.
            The most dramatic moments of the fiscal session occurred when the Senate took up an appropriation bill for the Division of Economic and Medical Services. It administers Medicaid and the expansion of Medicaid known as Arkansas Works, which has generated controversy and heated debate in every legislative session since 2013.
            Passage of an appropriation bill requires a supermajority of 75 percent, which means it needs 27 votes in the 35-member Senate. The funding bill for Medicaid passed without a vote to spare on a vote of 27-to-2. In the House of Representatives the vote was 79-to-15.
            The federal government provides the bulk of funding for Medicaid, therefore any changes in eligibility and in services covered must be approved by federal officials. At the beginning of the week the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said that the federal government will allow Arkansas to impose a work requirement for some recipients who are younger than 49 and are able-bodied.
If they do not work 80 hours a month they must volunteer, take job training or continuing adult education to be eligible.
            The Division has asked federal officials for permission to begin a cost-saving measure, and is still waiting for a decision. It would permit Arkansas to drop about 60,000 people from the Medicaid expansion rolls, which currently have about 285,000 signed up.
            The balanced budget proposed by the governor forecasts growth in state general revenue of about $237 million, bringing the total to about $5.6 billion for the fiscal year that begins June 30. That would be an increase of 4.3 percent. The forecasts for the current fiscal year are for growth of 2 percent.
            The bulk of next year’s revenue growth will go to Medicaid – about $138 million. State colleges and universities will receive an additional $12 million, to bring their total state aid to $746 million.
            Prisons will get an additional $3.5 million, bringing their total state aid to $353 million. The Public School Fund will increase to $2.2 billion.
            In the fall, legislators will begin budget hearings in preparation for the 2019 regular session. Sessions in odd-numbered years are much busier than fiscal sessions in even-numbered years. 
In regular sessions in odd-numbered years, lawmakers not only adopt budgets but also consider hundreds of bills affecting criminal and civil law, education standards, environmental quality, tax fairness and the affordability of health care.
            During this year’s fiscal session, the legislature voted on 124 Senate bills and 139 House bills. During last year’s regular session we considered 1,280 House bills and 789 Senate bills. The fiscal session lasted 29 days and last year’s regular session lasted 86 days.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Week in Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – As the legislature gets close to wrapping up the 2018 fiscal session, one of the final bills to be considered is the state balanced budget bill known as the Revenue Stabilization Act.
            Whether in fiscal sessions or regular sessions, the balanced budget law is traditionally among the last measures passed by the General Assembly.
            The appropriation for the Medicaid program is also one of the last bills approved by the legislature. It is one of the largest expenditures of state tax dollars, and usually is one of the most controversial spending bills in every recent legislative session.
            The Revenue Stabilization Act was first passed by the legislature in 1945 by a unanimous vote in the House of Representatives and a 30-to-1 vote in the Senate.
            It has proven to be a flexible method of balancing state government’s budget. A legal challenge of the Revenue Stabilization Act was filed in 1961 and the following year the state Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality. The ruling was unanimous.
            The justice who wrote the majority opinion said that the “Revenue Stabilization Law is a complex accounting tool designed to insure that the recipients of State funds receive monies only so long as cash is on hand.”
            It still functions well today. Legislators prioritize all state agency spending requests. If the economy is healthy and general revenue is collected at projected levels, state agencies receive what they are budgeted to receive. 
When the economy goes into a downturn, income taxes decline because fewer people have jobs. Sales taxes decline because families cut back on spending. Corporate income taxes are reduced because profits suffer. The total amount of state general revenue falls below estimates, and as required by the Revenue Stabilization Act, state agencies must cut back on spending in the low-priority categories.
State aid for public schools is considered a top priority, after a legal challenge in the Lake View school funding case. The plaintiff was a small, rural school that challenged how the Public School Fund was distributed. In ruling for the Lake View District, the Supreme Court said that the state Constitution obligated the state to provide an adequate education for all Arkansas children. The practical result has been that school funding is considered immune from budget cuts. 
School funding amounts to about half of state general revenue spending, therefore about half of state spending is protected from budget cuts. That means the rest of state government is hit even harder when the Revenue Stabilization Act mandates spending reductions.
School Safety
            The Joint Performance Review Committee will meet regularly between now and next January to prepare a comprehensive package of measures to improve school safety, in the event of an active shooter. The measures will be presented to the legislature during the 2019 regular session.
            In related news, the governor announced that he would create a commission to evaluate school designs, security policies, emergency plans, school counseling and mental health issues. The School Safety Commission’s initial report is due on July 1, 2018.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Virtually all of the discussion during the 2018 fiscal session of the legislature will be about the budgets in the categories commonly referred to as the “Big Six.”
            Fiscal sessions begin on the second Monday of February in even-numbered years. This year that is February 12.
            The “Big Six” categories are institutions of higher education, public schools, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Health, the Department of Correction and the Department of Community Correction.
            Their budgets account for about 94 percent of general revenue spending, which is the state’s main discretionary account. Almost all state general revenue comes from sales taxes and income taxes and amounts to more than $5.6 billion a year.
            State government spends a lot more each year because it administers numerous programs funded by the federal government. Last year federal matching funds accounted for almost $10 billion in Arkansas.
            Also, state government has several special revenue accounts, which come from dedicated taxes. The largest special revenue account comes from motor fuels taxes and fees on large trucks, which pay for highway construction and maintenance. Highway revenue makes up about 67 percent of all the state’s special revenue accounts.
Other special revenues include fees and dedicated taxes that fund specific programs in the Insurance Department, Parks and Tourism, the Department of Environmental Quality and the State Police.
State officials and legislators also take into account cash revenue when they prepare and adopt budgets.
The single largest source of state cash revenue is tuition and fees paid by students at state-supported colleges and universities. Those cash revenues account for more than 95 percent of all cash revenue and amount to more than $5.8 billion.
State parks also collect fees that are considered cash funds, as do regulatory boards and commissions.
When all sources of state revenue were added up last year, including general revenue, federal matching funds, cash revenue and special revenue, they totaled almost $30 billion. The 35 senators and 100 representatives will distribute that money during the 2018 fiscal session, which will probably last 30 days.
Fiscal sessions can be extended by a 75 percent vote of both the Senate and House chambers, but under the constitution it can be extended only once, by no more than 15 days. Therefore, the longest a fiscal session can last is 45 days.
Only appropriation bills may be introduced. They authorize spending by state agencies. There is a mechanism for filing other types of bills, however, it is difficult to do and requires an extraordinary majority in both chambers to even introduce a non-appropriation bill.
Historically, the legislature met just every other year in odd-numbered years. They generally last about 90 days. Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment establishing yearly sessions, with the sessions in even-numbered years devoted solely to fiscal issues. Our first fiscal session was in 2010.
The major topic of controversy during this year’s fiscal session is expected to be a familiar one - renewed funding of the Medicaid program. Passage of the appropriation for Medicaid requires a 75 percent majority in both chambers. That means it needs support from 75 House members and 27 senators.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Sometimes elected officials and law enforcement agencies must conduct public information campaigns to explain how people are affected when a new law is passed.
            These days, the opposite is taking place. The Highway Police and legislators are in the rare position of explaining to the public that a new law does not affect them. 
In this case, it is farmers and people who haul cattle, horses and other livestock. There have been concerns that they would be affected by new federal regulations geared for commercial truck drivers. 
The Highway Police have held meetings with the public and had individual discussions with legislators to assure them that nothing has changed in the enforcement of farm vehicles hauling livestock and rodeo animals.
The new rules require electronic monitors to be installed in commercial trucks, to log the amount of time the driver spends behind the wheel. The purpose is to more strictly enforce rules that limit truck drivers from driving for such long hours that they get drowsy or distracted.
For example, commercial truck drivers are not supposed to drive more than 11 hours in a 14-hour period. An electronic log of their travels will replace paper logs.
The popularity of social media such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter has fueled the spread of concerns about the potential effect on livestock haulers. The Highway Police and advocates for livestock haulers who studied the details of the new trucking regulations want people to know that the exemptions for hauling horses and cattle are still in place.
For example, if you occasionally load a horse on a trailer to participate in a livestock show or rodeo, nothing has changed, according to the head of the Highway Police. 
If you drive fewer than 150 miles, you’re still exempt from requirements that you obtain a commercial driver’s license. If you travel beyond the 150-mile radius, you’re still exempt if you make the trip fewer than eight times within a 30 day period. This exemption applies not only to horse owners on recreational trips, but also to farmers hauling commodities.
In response to concerns from legislators, farmers and cattlemen, Highway Police officials have assured state lawmakers that they have not stepped up enforcement of farm vehicles and livestock trailers.
The new regulations requiring truckers to keep electronic logs of their trips were adopted at the federal level by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and not by legislators at the state Capitol in Little Rock.
If you have any questions call the Highway Police central office at 501-569-2421 and ask for help in determining whether or not you are required to have a commercial driver’s license for the type of vehicle you drive and the type of trips you make.
Concealed Carry Instruction
            Last year the legislature passed laws increasing the number of locations where a permit holder could legally carry a concealed firearm, if they take additional training. Certificates were sent to about 70 instructors last week that authorize them to begin the enhanced training.
            A couple of instructors who qualified said in interviews with the media that they already had lengthy waiting lists for the enhanced training.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Civic and business leaders want to increase the number of college graduates in Arkansas, to prepare the state’s young people for the best jobs being created in the global economy.
            However, members of the Senate Education Committee don’t want policy makers to neglect the thousands of young students who may not attend or finish college. With the idea in mind that not all students are meant to get a university degree, they have sponsored legislation to improve opportunities for high school graduates and to raise the standards for courses that prepare students for careers.
There are various names for the courses, such as vocational and technical education. At a recent meeting of the Education Committee, legislators were briefed on the effectiveness of state efforts to improve career and technical education (CTE) in public schools. Although young students are taught living skills and the basics of choosing a career, the main focus for CTE is in high schools.
Charter schools and public school districts spend about $120 million a year on CTE offerings. The specific amount is hard to pin down because of the nature of CTE classes. Students sometimes take courses at their home campus, but sometimes they take classes in facilities where the costs are shared by several districts, educational cooperatives or local two year colleges.
Facilities known as Secondary Area Career Centers serve multiple districts, and offer technical courses using equipment that is too expensive for a single district, such as automotive lifts. Last year more than 18,600 students took CTE classes in the centers.
The most popular study programs at the career centers were medical professions, welding and automotive service technology. Of the CTE offerings that students took at the home campus of their high school, the most popular were a) family and consumer sciences, b) agricultural power, structural and technical systems and c) digital communications.
One of the challenges of CTE courses is overcoming the stigma that traditionally has been attached to vo-tech education. A study of the class of 2014, conducted by the Fordham Institute, indicates that students who focused on CTE classes graduated at a higher rate than the student body in general.
After graduating from high school they were more likely to get a job, enroll in a two-year college and earn higher wages than students who did not concentrate on CTE.
According to surveys done by the state Department of Workforce Services, the job category in Arkansas that is expected to grow the most for people with only a high school diploma is food preparation and food serving. They include jobs in fast food, restaurant cooks, as waiters and waitresses and food preparation. The second-most in demand occupation will be as retail salespersons.
For people with an associate’s degree from a two year college, the most demand will be for heavy equipment and tractor-trailer drivers. Second in demand will be for nursing assistants. 
For people with a bachelor’s degree, the highest demand will be for registered nurses. The second most in demand category will be general and operations managers. 
In Arkansas, 22 percent of adults between 25 and 64 have a bachelor’s degree. A high school education is the highest level of education for about half of the population of Arkansas. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

            LITTLE ROCK – In a decision that may have significant financial consequences for the Arkansas Medicaid program, federal officials have approved a Kentucky proposal to require recipients either to work or look for a job in order to qualify for some Medicaid benefits.
            States administer Medicaid and share the costs with the federal government. If a state wants to make any changes in eligibility, it must first gain approval from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Approval comes in the form of a waiver.
            Arkansas, like Kentucky and about 10 other states, has sought waivers that would allow them to impose a work requirement for people who qualify for Arkansas Works, a category within the Medicaid program. Once they are fully implemented they would apply to beneficiaries from 19 to 49 years of age.
The requirements will not apply to people who are 50 or older, or people who are in a category known as “medically frail.” Pregnant women and people who are caring for children under the age of six are exempt too.
            Although Arkansas officials have not yet received official notice of a waiver, they were optimistic that one would arrive shortly because of the similarities in the Arkansas and the Kentucky requests.
            Arkansas also has asked for a waiver allowing us to lower the eligibility threshold for Arkansas works, from 138 percent to 100 percent of the federal poverty level. That would affect about 60,000 of the 285,000 people now receiving benefits from the Arkansas Works program.
            There are similar work requirements for food stamps. Exemptions include children, senior citizens and people with disabilities.

Snow Day Changes
            Thanks to Act 862 of 2017, the many school districts affected by winter weather last week will not have to make up a snow day later in the spring. Act 862 allows them to provide “alternative methods of instruction” when snow forces the cancellation of classes.
            Schools prepare by sending home packets of instruction that students work on at home when it snows. Teachers are expected to monitor online work and answer phone calls and emails. Judging by news reports, it went well for the most part but there will be some bugs to work out. Parents had to help figure out assignments.
            One result is that yet another acronym – AMI - has been introduced into the education system. It stands for alternative method of instruction.
            Educators hope that using AMI instead of declaring snow days will prevent the need to extend the school year into June, when classes would conflict with summer school and families’ summer plans.
            Another recently enacted law, Act 143 of 2015, gives school superintendents more flexibility in managing schedules affected by winter weather. It allows superintendents to delay starting times until as late as 10 a.m. due to inclement weather, and schools will not have to make up that day later in June.
If it begins to snow after classes have already begun, schools can close as early as 1 p.m. without having to schedule a makeup day. Schools can apply Act 143 as many as five times a year.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – The governor presented his balanced budget proposal to legislators, who will act on the plan during the fiscal session that begins on February 12.
The bulk of the increased spending next year would be for the Medicaid program, which subsidizes health care for people with disabilities, the elderly who need long term nursing care, and low-income families.
The Division of Children and Family Services, which recruits foster families for children who have been abused or neglected, is set to receive an additional $7.3 million. That will allow it to hire 65 additional caseworkers.
Under the governor’s proposal, state prisons would get an additional $3.5 million, bringing their estimated total from state general revenue to $353. The agency that administers drug courts, parole and probation is due to get an additional $1.7 million, bringing its total to almost $88 million for next year.
            Although the governor proposes a balanced budget every year, it is the legislature that has final authority to review and approve all state agency spending requests. 
For example, during budget hearings when the governor presented his plan, one senator expressed a desire to increase funding above the governor’s recommendation so that the state can hire more parole and probation officers. The average caseload is 120 for about 468 officers. The senator said he would introduce an amendment to add 30 new officers.
During the fiscal session legislators will adopt budgets for state Fiscal Year 2019, which begins on July 1. Fiscal sessions last for 30 days, but can be extended to 45 days if a 75 percent majority of each chamber votes to extend. The state Constitution does not allow for an additional extension beyond 45 days.
The Arkansas legislature used to meet every two years, but voters approved a constitutional amendment to authorize yearly sessions, with session in even-numbered- years strictly devoted to appropriations. The first fiscal session was in 2010.
Although the legislature will only consider budget bills during the fiscal session, there is a mechanism for considering non-budget matters. However, it requires the approval of a supermajority of two-thirds in each chamber to be able to introduce a non-budget bill.
Typically during a fiscal session, the legislature will approve about 300 separate appropriations to authorize spending by state agencies and institutions of higher education.
            The proposed budget for next fiscal year is based on an estimated increase in spending of almost $173 million, which would bring the total of state general revenue spending to $5.6 billion.  
Arkansas also collects special revenues, such as motor fuels taxes for highway construction, and we receive federal matching funds for highway programs, education and health care. This fiscal year the total of all sources of government spending in Arkansas will be an estimated $29.6 billion.
Medicaid relies heavily on federal matching funds. Arkansas, like other relatively poor states, receives a high percentage of matching funds compared to prosperous states. The federal government has matched our Medicaid funding by paying for 70.87 percent of total costs. However, due to recent improvements in our per capita income, the match rate is dropping slightly, to 70.51 percent. The change means that the state will contribute an additional $48.6 million to the total cost of Medicaid in Arkansas.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – In a letter to the State Police, the governor said that open carry of a firearm is not a violation of state gun laws, as long as there is no intent to use the weapon unlawfully.
            This is the second time since 2015 that a state constitutional officer has written that open carry is legal. An attorney general’s opinion from 2015 says that “in general merely possessing a handgun on your person or in your vehicle does not violate” statutes about firearm possession.
            In response to the governor’s letter, the director of the State Police sent a memo to troop commanders saying that “openly carrying a firearm does not alone provide probable cause for arrest.”
            The governor, a former U.S. Attorney, and the current state attorney general both cite Act 746 of 2013, which spells out when it is permissible to carry a firearm on a journey.
            The attorney general’s opinion was issued August 28, 2015 and is 17 pages. It is number 2015-064. It outlines the legal changes made by Act 746.
            Although open carry is legal, someone who carries a handgun should remember that the police may lawfully question them about their purpose. The officer may detain the person carrying the firearm due to suspicions based on the persons’ demeanor and activities, or based on information supplied by a third person, or because of known criminal activity nearby.
            Private property owners are still entitled to keep firearms off their property, and a person carrying a handgun can be prosecuted for criminal trespass if they enter that property against the owner’s wishes.
            There are still prohibitions against carrying a firearm into public buildings such as jails and courtrooms.
            Act 746 changed state law so that there is no longer a presumption that possession of a loaded handgun indicates any intent to commit an unlawful act, according to the attorney general’s opinion. The burden of proof is now on the prosecution to prove that the person carrying the gun intended to do something against the law.
            The opinion states that Act 746 does not overturn any rules affecting concealed-carry permit holders, and laws requiring concealed carry permits are still in full force and effect. A person may not carry a concealed handgun unless he has a concealed-carry license. In fact, the opinion says, the courts would likely consider flouting of concealed-carry laws to be a presumption of intent to do something unlawful.
            The opinion discusses the “journey exception,” which allows you to carry a firearm in your vehicle either in the open or concealed, as long as you have no intent to use it unlawfully. The journey exception does not override other gun laws, for example, you cannot bring a gun in your vehicle and park it on the grounds of a prison just because you’re on a journey.
Once the gun owner takes it out of the vehicle, the journey exception no longer applies but the person may lawfully carry the gun as long as he or she has no intent to use it unlawfully against another person. If the person conceals it while carrying it, he or she must have a concealed-carry license.
Act 746 passed by a vote of 82-to-1 in the House of Representatives and 28-to-0 in the Senate.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Many challenges facing state government in 2018 will have a familiar ring, but will take on a modern twist.
            A good example is Medicaid. The state administers the health care program for people with disabilities, the elderly and low-income families, and since it was created in the mid 1960s state watchdogs have been working to improve efficiency and accountability.
The Department of Human Service administers Medicaid, and the department plans to introduce an innovation in 2018 to control costs for home care and personal care, which in Arkansas run about $800 million a year. The department will contract with a software firm to will operate a cloud-based “electronic visit verification” method to reduce fraud. The new system will use technology available on smart phones.
About 15 other states are doing something similar to hold down costs in their home care programs. The idea is to make sure that personal care workers have actually visited the homes of Medicaid patients when they file claims for reimbursement.
Home care and personal care workers are paid to visit Medicaid patients to help with household needs like personal hygiene and preparing meals. After the new verification system is in place, the smart phone of the home care worker will record and transmit a log of its location and the times it was at particular locations. Computers can verify that the phone has actually been at the home of the Medicaid patient, and for how long. 
The system will work even if the home is out of cell phone range, because modern phones have clocks and GPS that continue to work even when the device is not in range of a cell tower. After the worker gets back within cell phone range, a record of the visit will be transmitted to monitors.
After difficulties implementing a new computer system, the department has a digital verification system in place that in 2017 removed about 80,000 Medicaid recipients from the rolls. For example, the department now checks a recipient’s income by accessing files at other agencies. It also checks whether an Arkansas recipient is receiving Medicaid benefits from another state.
State officials expect other changes in the Medicaid program in 2018, when they learn from federal agencies whether proposed reforms for Arkansas Works will be approved. Arkansas Works is the expanded Medicaid program that Arkansas implemented after passage of the federal Affordable Care Act.
The state administers Medicaid, but because the federal government provides the vast majority of its funding, changes in eligibility or level of service in Arkansas Works must first be approved by the federal government.
The department has asked for approval of a plan to reduce eligibility from 138 percent of the federal poverty level to 100 percent. Also, the state wants to add a requirement that some recipients work, look for work or take job training in order to qualify for Medicaid.
When the legislature convenes in a fiscal session in February, one of the most important bills to consider will be the appropriation that authorizes Medicaid funding. Passage of the funding measure will require a 75 percent majority in each chamber of the legislature.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – The past year has been eventful for state government, and the development that may have the most positive long-term impact for the Arkansas economy was passage by the legislature of a $50 million-a-year tax cut for low income families.
            Act 78 of 2017 will lower state income taxes for everyone whose income is less than $21,000 a year. People whose annual incomes are below $4,300 will be taken off the income tax rolls completely.
            An analysis by the Bureau of Legislative Research estimates that Act 78 will reduce taxes for 1,346,415 Arkansas residents.
            The legislature also eliminated state income taxes for retired veterans. Act 141 of 2017 exempts military retirement from state income taxes. About 29,000 Arkansas veterans served long enough to qualify for retirement benefits, and Act 141 will save them about $13.4 million a year.
            Both tax reductions are expected to improve the Arkansas economy in various ways. First, much of the tax savings will be spent on groceries, housing and necessities instead of going into the state treasure. Secondly, state economists expect the tax cut for veterans to make Arkansas an attractive location for military retirees. If locations in Arkansas attract more veterans, those communities will benefit from their expertise and willingness to serve.
            Act 465, also passed by the legislature earlier this year, exempts sales taxes for manufacturers when they purchase equipment for repairs and replacement of parts. It sunsets an existing tax incentive program known as InvestArk. The tax exemption will be phased in, beginning July 1, 2018.
            The savings to manufacturers will begin accumulating in 2020, when the loss of InvestArk is more than offset by the sales tax exemption. In Fiscal Year 2020 the savings to manufacturers will be $230,000, but they will increase rapidly and in 2023 will be more than $12.3 million a year.
            Because Arkansas had approved a medical marijuana amendment in November of 2016, the legislature had to create from scratch a totally new regulatory system. Lawmakers wanted to make sure that marijuana would be prescribed and sold handled like a medication, and they also wanted to make sure that the amendment would not become a gateway allowing easier access to recreational use of illegal drugs.
In all, the legislature considered 51 bills and enacted 25 that implement aspects of the medical marijuana amendment. There will be 32 dispensaries and five growers that will open for business in 2018.
Act 191 of 2017 was a priority of business leaders because it clarifies the legal position of employers in civil lawsuits. Under the act, supervisors acting on their own are not considered employers. The legal result is that lawsuits against employers will not be pursued under the category of hate crimes. The act creates a one-year limit in which discrimination and retaliation suits can be filed against employers.
Act 734 of 2017 is another priority of business leaders. It lowers the base wage on which employers pay unemployment insurance taxes, from $12,000 to $10,000. The change will save Arkansas businesses about $50 million a year. Act 734 also shortens from 20 to 16 weeks the length of time someone may receive unemployment insurance benefits.