Arkansas General Assembly
8:06 pm
Thu February 27, 2014

Discussions Bring Potential Changes To Private Option, Vote Expected Next Week

Davy Carter
House Speaker Davy Carter (R, Cabot)
Credit Nathan Vandiver / KUAR

State Legislators say they’re getting closer to finding a way to pass funding for Arkansas’s private option. House Leadership have been meeting with opponents and Department of Human Services officials about the possibility of limiting the time period during which people can enroll in the program.

House Speaker Davy Carter said an idea is being floated to create a fixed period of open enrollment in private option health insurance plans. In meetings with opponents and DHS officials, the issue of setting a specific time frame for people to enroll was raised.

“It came out of those discussions,"he said. “This entire issue is so complex, not only open enrollment. Just all the things that [are] involved in healthcare and private option and dealing with the Affordable Health Care Act and the mandates that we have. If you make a decision here on its face, well…that has other effects.”

Carter said amending the private option bill is still off the table. He said changes to the enrollment period would likely have to be handled by the DHS and federal government.

Last year, the Arkansas Legislature passed the Healthcare Independence Act, which created the so-called private option. The program allows low-income Arkansans (living below 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level) to choose private health insurance plans paid for by federal Medicaid dollars.

Legislators on Thursday indicated that if there were a specific window for enrollment in the program, those applicants falling outside of that window may be placed in traditional Medicaid. When the window for enrollment opens again, those assigned to Medicaid would have the opportunity to sign up for a private health insurance plan, as most private option participants already do.

Rep. Bruce Cozart (R, Hot Springs)
Rep. Bruce Cozart (R, Hot Springs)

Republican State Representative Bruce Cozart, who’s been in talks with Carter, says his side wants to pass a state budget before the end of next week. That means the private option will have to be accepted in some form.

“I think we’re all tired. We have no option here really. This is not fixable this year. Nest year we’ll have to come back and work on this. We’ll have new people here. We’re losing 26 or 27…and we’ll have that many new [state representatives]. Will they all be Democrats? Will they all be Republicans? There’ll be a mix of them. Hopefully we can come back together and cure some of these little issues,” he said.

Cozart said he and other opponents don’t want the impasse over the healthcare program for poor Arkansans to cause the state to be without a budget.

“Are we going to make the program go away? I doubt it. I doubt if it ever will go away. But I think we can work on it, tweak it and make it more efficient.”

The appropriations bill for the DHS Division of Medical Services (which includes funding for the private option) is expected to come up for a vote in the House early next week.