Arkansas Governor Calls Meeting 'Good Start' On Medicaid

Gov. Asa Hutchinson
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday that his main proposed changes to the private option remain intact after his recent discussions with federal Department of Health and Human Services Director Sylvia Burwell.

Also, he unveiled the state’s new brand direction for its economic development efforts: “Arkansas Inc. When you’re in Arkansas, you’re in good company.”

Hutchinson made the announcement at the 2016 Joint Winter Conference of the Arkansas Economic Developers and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce Executives.

Hutchinson met with Burwell Monday (Feb. 2) to discuss changes to the state’s private option that he is calling Arkansas Works. Created in 2013, the private option uses federal Medicaid dollars to purchase private insurance for individuals with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty line, but it was barely passed and has since barely mustered the votes to be reauthorized. It was created as part of a waiver with the federal government. Arkansas must be granted a new waiver to make changes Hutchinson wants to make as part of his next generation Arkansas Works.

“We understand their limitations, and they understand what we want,” he told reporters. “They’re going to work to give us as much as they can within their own constraints. I’m going to continue to push, and this conversation hopefully will lead us to a strong Arkansas Works program.”

Hutchinson said his fundamental changes to the private option include incentivizing work; greater individual responsibility such as requiring higher-earning recipients to pay 2% of their incomes for insurance premiums; encouraging the utilization of employer-based insurance instead of government insurance; and program integrity.

“Those are the four elements of it,” he said. “They’re still intact. None of those have been rejected. But we want to be able to push the envelope in each one of those to get as much as we can to make those successful.”

Hutchinson said the state’s efforts will focus on incentives rather than punitive measurements because of the Obama administration’s requirements.

“The punitive side is not something that this administration is interested in, so we’re having to look at incentives, and we don’t want to overload a program with incentives, so we’re looking at options to make this stronger,” he said.

He will describe his plans in detail on Feb. 17, when he meets with the Arkansas Health Reform Legislative Task Force, a group of legislators considering the Arkansas Works model in the context of overall health care reform. He said details will be fine-turned between now and then “to the greatest extent possible.”

Hutchinson told reporters after his speech to the economic developers that the discussion with Burwell generated “a couple of good ideas.”

The coming weeks will be busy when it comes to Arkansas health care policy. The Feb. 17 meeting will be followed by a special session focused on health care reform, followed then by Arkansas’ even-numbered year fiscal session, followed then by a special session about highways.

Hutchinson told the economic developers that all three are tied together. The health session will determine funding priorities decided in the fiscal session. His highway plan depends on federal health care dollars to help increase highway funding without raising taxes.

Hutchinson on Wednesday announced that Cindy Gillespie, former health care advisor to then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, will be the state’s Department of Human Services director beginning March 1. In addition to playing a leading role in the development of Massachusetts’ health policies, she also helped rescue the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games from its financial struggles.

“She brings great management experience, business acumen, as well as a passion for kids,” he said.

Hutchinson said of the new “Arkansas, Inc.” campaign, “I like the message. It is the right message. ‘When you’re in Arkansas, you’re in good company.’ … That’s a simple message that communicates everything that we’re trying to accomplish in this state.”

Hutchinson recently announced in Las Vegas that firearms manufacturer SIG SAUER will be locating a manufacturing facility in Arkansas. Asked about the keys to Arkansas landing that plant, Hutchinson listed his personal engagement, the state’s incentive package, an available building, and the local employees’ skill set learned working with other firearms manufacturers.

Also, he said some manufacturers are becoming increasingly uncomfortable having locations in Northeast states that are less gun-friendly than Arkansas. Some are manufacturing firearms that are illegal in their own states. He said manufacturers have told him they are “persona non grata in their state.”