Arkansas alternative to Obamacare on
critical list after election
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[November 06, 2014]
By Steve Barnes
LITTLE ROCK Ark. (Reuters) - The Republican
surge in Tuesday's U.S. elections carried Arkansas along with it,
threatening to sweep away a bipartisan health insurance plan in the
state that is also being studied by other states as an alternative to
Republicans had a narrow majority in the state's House of
Representatives and several in the party campaigned hard to overturn
what is known as the "Private Option," a plan cobbled together by
centrists in both parties that has enrolled nearly a quarter-million
Arkansans previously without medical coverage.
Republicans will see their numbers grow in the state's Senate and
House, where their bare 51-vote House majority is set to swell in
excess of 60, with many new members staunch opponents of the Private
The program uses federal Medicaid funds from the Affordable Care
Act, or Obamacare, to help buy health insurance for low-income
Arkansans, many of whom would otherwise be assigned to Medicaid or
have treatment costs absorbed by doctors and other healthcare
"The votes are not there today for a simple continuation of the
Private Option," said state Senator David Sanders of Little Rock,
one of the Republican architects of the plan.
Designed by moderate Republicans and Governor Mike Beebe, a Democrat
who is leaving office due to term limits, the Private Option was
enacted and funded by the barest of majorities in the 2013 and 2014
It prevailed with unanimous support from Democrats but was bitterly
opposed by conservative Republicans who complained the plan was
"socialistic" and smacked of government overreach.
The Arkansas experiment has been adopted or considered in some form
by states including Republican strongholds such as Utah, and
battleground states in presidential elections including
Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio.
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The plan appeals to some conservative lawmakers who want to provide
healthcare for the uninsured through the private sector rather than
the federal Medicaid program. It also fits the Obama
administration's goal of seeing states use federal Medicaid money to
provide insurance for lower-income residents.
Governor-elect Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, has not committed to
continuing the Private Option. Those involved with Arkansas state
budgeting, however, say abandoning it would be fiscally disastrous.
"It would blow a hole in the budget," said Richard Weiss, director
of the Arkansas state finance department.
"It would cost us tens of millions of dollars in addition to
eliminating coverage for thousands."
(Reporting by Steve Barnes; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Eric
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