Proposal to launch 'private option' Medicaid fails in Arkansas House vote

Published April 15, 2013

| Associated Press

Arkansas House members failed to approve a budget bill for a plan to use federal Medicaid dollars to buy private health insurance for low-income residents, slowing the Legislature to a crawl in what was expected to be its final week of meetings. 

The House voted 69-28 in favor, leaving the "private option" proposal six votes short of the 75 votes needed for it to pass. The plan would let Arkansas use federal Medicaid funds to buy private insurance for low-income residents under the new federal health care plan. 

Legislators had already approved a bill setting up the program, but an attached budget bill needs a supermajority -- three-fourths of each chamber -- before it can take effect. The proposal also requires final approval from the federal government, which has endorsed the concept but wants to see specifics. 

A Friday vote had been set, but House leaders who support the bill delayed work so representatives could explain the plan to constituents. After Monday's vote, the House immediately adjourned until Tuesday. Leading lawmakers had previously said they wanted to finish up work for this year's legislative session by this Friday. 

Gov. Mike Beebe said after the vote that legislators should just end the session if they don't plan to reconsider and pass the bill, and that he would not call a special session for them to consider it again. 

"If they don't pass it tomorrow, then shut the session down and go home," Beebe told reporters after Monday's vote. 

He also said he could not support any tax cuts in the current legislative session if the bill doesn't pass. 

The Senate immediately adjourned without taking up any bill after the House vote. Senate President Michael Lamoureux said other pending issues, including a tax cut package and the proposed budget for the year, were paused while lawmakers consider the private option. 

"I think it puts everything on hold, and probably not much of a chance of wrapping up by Friday at this point," said Lamoureux, R-Russellville. 

Arkansas is deciding whether to enact an alternative to the Medicaid expansion that was once required under the federal health care law but is now a choice left up to individual states after last year's Supreme Court ruling. 

The proposal was a compromise reached between Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe as an alternative to expanding Medicaid enrollment. Under the bill, Arkansas would take the federal Medicaid funds it would have received to expand the program and instead use that money to purchase private insurance for 250,000 residents who make up to 138 percent of the poverty line, which amounts to $15,415 per year. 

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has said the state's plan was consistent with Medicaid's requirements, but in a letter to Beebe this month she stopped short of giving final approval. 

Some Republican support for the "private option" proposal is also linked to passage of a series of changes to the current Medicaid system. Lawmakers say they want to see changes to the current program before agreeing to allow the state to tap additional federal Medicaid funds. 

The Senate immediately adjourned without taking up any bill after the House vote. Senate President Michael Lamoureux said other pending issues, including a tax cut package and the proposed budget for the year, were paused while lawmakers consider the private option.

URL

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/04/15/proposal-to-launch-private-option-medicaid-fails-in-arkansas-house-vote/