Arkansas 'Private Option' Vote Thought Safe, Its Appropriation Less So

Apr 10, 2013

The Arkansas House is expected to vote Thursday on a plan to provide private health insurance coverage with federal money for low income Arkansans. The plan's implementation hinges on a tougher vote expected Friday.

The vote to enable the expansion is expected to pass the House with the needed 51 votes. Approval is easier than allowing the expansion to be funded, which takes a budget appropriation requiring 75 votes.

Some lawmakers on the fence about the plan have expressed worry that a vote against it will be seen as a vote against the state’s current Medicaid program because the private option plan is tied into the state Department of Human Services budget. That was evident Wednesday when during a vote to amend the DHS appropriation bill, Representative Joe Farrer, a Republican from Austin, asked House Speaker Davy Carter separate the private option appropriation.

“I’d like to have it [the private option appropriation] pulled and voted on by its own, not tied to DHS,” Farrer said.

Carter, who is for private option expansion, replied that they wouldn't do that.

In exchange, Governor Mike Beebe has said the federal money for an insurance expansion could fund tax cuts.

The enabling legislation passed the Senate Tuesday.

Senator Jake Files, a Republican from Fort Smith, supports the private option and also sees it as a way to offset tax cuts. But he tells Roby Brock of Talk Business Arkansas that some of his colleagues in the House still aren't comfortable with it.

“There’s a lot of newer members in the House that have gotten a lot of the information, but I think they've gotten it late, and so they’re not as comfortable,” Files said. “You saw that with Westerman stepping of the bill yesterday, and he had the information. So it was a little curious to me, that whole timing and process.”

The Senate has yet to vote on the private option appropriation.