The Arkansas Senate approved the $915 million
appropriation for the Private Option plan last week, but the House
narrowly rejected it in four votes.
House Speaker Davy Carter, a Republican and a Private Option
supporter, has expressed confidence that funding will eventually be
secured. The House will probably vote on the bill on Monday, and
every day after that until it passes, he said.
The program uses federal Medicaid funds from the Affordable Care
Act, or Obamacare, to help buy health insurance coverage for
low-income Arkansans, many of whom would otherwise be assigned to
Medicaid or have their treatment costs absorbed by doctors and other
This appeals to some conservative lawmakers who want to provide
healthcare for the uninsured and believe a private-sector option
makes more sense than enrolling more people in the federal Medicaid
It also fits into the plans of the Obama administration, which would
like to see states use federal Medicaid money to provide some form
of insurance for lower-income residents.
Both houses in the Arkansas legislature are controlled by
Republicans, who are opposed to Obamacare and divided on whether the
Private Option is a reasonable alternative.
The program, crafted by Republican legislators who worked with
Governor Mike Beebe, a Democrat, was enacted last year.
"Republican governors and Republican states and anti-Obamacare and
anti-federal government healthcare folks are saying, 'Gosh, we need
to do what Arkansas is doing'," Beebe said in a Reuters interview
The Arkansas experiment has since been adopted or considered for use
in some form by several other states, including Republican
strongholds such as Utah, and battleground states in presidential
elections, including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio.
"Pragmatic folks have said, 'We may not like it, we may have voted
against it, but as long as we've got it, let's take care of our own
people'," Beebe continued.
"From pure arithmetic, it's pretty much a no-brainer."
But opponents in the Arkansas General Assembly said that both the
Private Option and the Affordable Care Act would prove financially
disastrous and represent an unacceptable expansion of government.
[to top of second column]
State Representative Nate Bell, a Republican from Mena, Arkansas,
and a leading opponent of the Private Option program, answered
"both" when asked if conservative opposition to the plan was fiscal
Bell, who voted against the program in 2013, advocates passing
the appropriation this year, but only after attaching amendments
that he says could make it easier for the financing to wither in the
2015 legislative session.
Bell's language strips from the funding bill all money for outreach — advertising and marketing intended to increase enrollment in the
Private Option — that its advocates say is important to broadening
participation and holding down costs.
The Democratic governor and the program's legislative advocates have
accepted that the amendments may be the price they have to pay to
win the additional Republican votes needed to keep it funded.
Beebe has warned that failure to continue the Private Option
would destroy his proposed $5 billion budget for the fiscal year
beginning July 1 because the savings the program anticipates would
compensate for millions of dollars in state tax cuts that
Republicans demanded in 2013.
Last week, the 100-member House fell about five votes short of the
75 votes needed to continue funding.
"It boils down to Obamacare,"said state Senator Larry Teague, a
Democrat from Nashville, Arkansas, and the co-chair of the
legislature's powerful Joint Budget Committee.
Legislation with "any connection at all" to Obama's signature
healthcare law is enough to doom it among some Republicans, Teague
(Reporting by Steve Barnes; writing by
Jon Herskovitz; editing by Jan Paschal)
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