Local & Regional News
3:38 pm
Mon January 13, 2014

Arkansas Legislative Race Could Impact Medicaid Expansion

The outcome of a special election Tuesday for a northeast Arkansas Senate seat could be a factor in the long-term viability of the state’s Medicaid expansion.

Nurses work inside a hospital.

The race will determine whether Democrat Steve Rockwell or Republican John Cooper will serve the remainder of former state Senator Paul Bookout’s term. Bookout, a Democrat, vacated the post due to ethics violations.

Political analyst Jay Barth from Hendrix College says Bookout voted for the "private option" plan to expand Medicaid, a plan that will be under review by lawmakers during next month's fiscal session.

“We know that there was not a vote to spare, in terms of the Senate vote on the “private option” back in the regular session,” Barth said. “Governor Beebe and the leaders in the House and Senate, who worked so hard on the “private option,” are going to have to work really hard again to make it happen…and a loss for the Democrats in this race could ratchet up the pressure and make it more difficult. It’s not impossible, but it’s certainly more complicated.”

Barth says even if Democrats lose this election, it is highly unlikely the Medicaid expansion will be dismantled. He admits it would be politically risky for elected officials to take health insurance coverage away from thousands of people.

On February 1, lawmakers are expected to vote on a bill that would provide funding for health care initiatives. Arkansas Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford says expanding the state’s Medicaid program should be a top priority for legislators concerned about the availability of health insurance.