Arkansas Lawmakers Eye Private Option As Medicaid Innovation

Apr 8, 2013

Republican Representative John Burris of Harrison told his colleagues in the Arkansas House on Monday that the state could be an example to other states of how to overhaul Medicaid if it approves a new private option of health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The House met Monday specifically to discuss a bill that would allow the state to expand health coverage through private insurance for roughly 250,000 Arkansans who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level with federal money.

Arkansas is the first state to receive approval from the US Health and Human Services Department to construct such a plan. Speaking for the bill, Burris said the new plan, which takes adults who would go into the state Medicaid system and supplements their cost of private insurance, is not an entitlement like the old one.

“Three to four years from now we’re going to have 500,000 less people on traditional Medicaid than we would have if we expanded it the way that we were originally asked,” he said. “I’m glad we have the flexibility, we have the flexibility because people said no and it yielded better results, and that needs to be said because where we are is vastly different from where we started.”

Identical bills before the House and passed last week by the Senate contain a provision that would require recipients of private insurance through the plan to sign a statement that what they are receiving is not an entitlement.

Republicans, who hold majorities in both the House and Senate, have been unwilling to adopt provisions of the federal health care law, even calling the original expansion option through the state’s Medicaid program a “non-starter.”

Republican Representative David Meeks of Conway says he's worried that even though the plan uses private insurance, it will have the same problems as Medicaid.

“And that is my concern, that we are wanting to reform Medicaid, but if the plans are the same as Medicaid then really all we’ve done is repackage it,” Meeks said.

Senator Jonathan Dismang of Beebe, also a Republican, says the new private option plan is an improvement on the Affordable Care Act.

“We are essentially guaranteeing a better system than, for instance, DHS having that administrative burden, hiring employees, having to go out and do intensive case management on those high cost folks,” Dismang said. “They will be in a plan that will be managed by a [private] insurance company.”

If approved, the expansion would also require a budget appropriation bill to be implemented. That would take a 75 percent majority in both the House and Senate.