Arkansas House OKs Medicaid 'Private Option,' Plan Still Needs Appropriation

Apr 11, 2013

Rep. John Burris (R-Harrison) said their are drastic costs to health care for Arkansas if lawmakers reject a plan to increase private health insurance in the state with federal Medicaid money.
Credit Nathan Vandiver / KUAR

  The Arkansas House is expected to vote Friday on whether to let the state spend the money to implement the private option of health insurance expansion for low income Arkansans.

Thursday it approved one bill that sets up the plan, but the plan's appropriation is expected to be much harder to pass.

Though several spoke for it, House Republicans wanted to make it very clear that their plan to provide private health insurance to Arkansans making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level with federal money originally intended for Medicaid is not an endorsement of the Affordable Care Act.

“I hate Obamacare more than anybody in here,” Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, told his colleagues on the house floor.

Collins said he’s been through the emotions of despair and anger and is now ready to bargain to improve the Affordable Care Act.

“I’m now stuck in a nasty, horrible, sickening place,” Collins continued.

He did explain some positives aspects of the private option.

“This plan has a stunning level of waivers from those strictures and regulations that are coming to our state and every other state in the land,” he said. “I’ve been stunned by the fed’s willingness to give us the flexibility that’s been given to us in this plan.”

The plan, House Bill 1143, passed 62 to 37 getting 11 more votes than the 51 it needed, but to put the plan into action, the vote to appropriate the federal money to the state’s Department of Human Services requires a much tougher 75 votes.

So, much of the debate was about convincing lawmakers who are on the fence.

“Members, this is probably going to be one of the worst against speeches you’ve ever heard, because in fact, I’m actually for the bill, but I’m going to be voting against it today,” Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, said.

He went on to explain his predicament.

“I believe this is the route we need to take,” Mayberry said. “My concern with passing this right now is that I have been contacted by untold numbers of my own constituents who have said ‘vote no, vote no, scream no.’”

Mayberry said a lot of the reasons constituents have told him to vote against the private option are reasons, he says, to vote for it, so he wants more time to convince his district.

“I think that we as a legislative body have been so very consumed in this legislative session with the policy making that we haven’t had a good opportunity to go back and visit with those folks who we represent and give them the information that we need,” Mayberry said.

There was talk of pushing the vote back to Monday so legislators could have time to explain the bill to their constituents, but the bill’s sponsor Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison, said the timeline of the session is getting very tight and lawmakers need to go ahead and vote.

“I think you can ask a lot of questions, but I think it’s almost all covered, and it just comes down to trust, and in terms of that, I don’t trust either, I just think we have the necessary triggers built in that if terms aren’t delivered then the act isn’t implemented,” Burris told reporters.

Lawmakers have also asked for a special legislative session to have more time to convince constituents.

Governor Mike Beebe, who has the authority to call a special session, says that’s not a viable option either.

“The argument’s not this is bad the argument’s not we shouldn’t do this, the argument’s not that they don’t believe in it, the argument is their people don’t understand it and they want to go home and explain it to them,” Beebe told reporters. “Well, you know, that’s fine, explain to your people, but why do you have to go home for three weeks to explain to your people.”

Roughly a quarter million Arkansans stand to gain health insurance if the appropriation passes. An identical bill already passed the Senate, which will also need to vote on the appropriation.