By a vote of 77 to 23, the Arkansas House passed a bill that would allow funding to a plan to take federal money intended for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act and use it for private insurance for the state's adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
The funding bill must still me approved by the Senate. It requires a 3/4 majority in both chambers to pass. A bill laying out the plan has passed both the House and Senate with smaller majorities than required for the appropriation bill required to implement the plan.
Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, spoke against the bill saying colleagues have received threats for wanting to vote their mind. Bell has said he would vote against the bill.
Rep. John Payton, R-Wilburn, also spoke against the bill saying the state's General Improvement Fund is being used to coerce lawmakers into voting for the private option plan.
"It's very clear how emotional this is," Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison, said. "I respect the people who vote no, I respect the people who vote yes."
Burris sponsored the bill laying out the private option in the House.
Rep. Randy Alexander, R-Fayetteville, said he supports the private option plan on conservative principles but his constituents haven't had the time to understand the plan.
"I believe we need at least two weeks to meet with out constituents ... therefore I vote no on this appropriation," Alexander said.
Supporters of the bill highlighted its safeguards and said it would be a benefit to Arkansas businesses.
"We have the opportunity to catapult Arkansas to a leadership position," Rep John Edwards, D-Little Rock, said.
Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, also asked for more time to learn about the bill but said he would vote against it now.
In a fiery speech calling out reporters, hospitals and the Governor, Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, who has filed an alternative plan to the private option spoke of political threats and having his motives for voting against the plan questioned.
"I'm doing the right thing anyway," Westerman said of voting against it.
After voting against it Monday, Rep. Sue Scott, R-Rogers, said she would now vote for the bill saying she has received too many calls from too many people for it.
"I see the tire shop in Pea Ridge ... I see the lovely flea market I love to go to ... these are the people I respect, just as much as I respect you," Scott said of the people she sees as benefiting from the private option plan.
Lawmakers failed to approve the measure Monday by a vote of 69 to 28 after which the House abruptly adjourned. The Senate also adjourned once it received word that the vote failed.
Speaker of the House Davy Carter said he would call for a vote on the appropriation until it passed as long as progress was being made.
The plan, called the Health Care Independence Act of 2013, would use Medicaid money for private insurance for the state's working poor