In Fiscal Legislative Session, Discussions On Private Option Go On

Feb 26, 2014

Arkansas Capitol
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The Arkansas House of Representatives again delayed a fifth vote on funding Arkansas’s private option alternative to Medicaid expansion Wednesday. It came just as the state Department of Human Services new released figures showing that 127, 051 people have been deemed eligible to receive assistance under the healthcare program, with 105,561 already covered.

Last week, House Speaker Davy Carter said he and fellow supporters of the Private Option were through with negotiating on that program’s funding bill. This week, Carter says he’s at least willing to have discussions with opponents. Even though, as he says, there simply isn’t enough support to amend the private option bill anymore.

“It’s just simply a numbers game...It takes 51 members to do anything,” he told reporters, referring to a requirement that any amendments to funding bills’ language must receive a simple majority to be applied.

“If the votes aren’t there to do that, I think at some point you’ll come to the conclusion that there really aren’t any viable alternatives,” he said. “I concluded that earlier, but I’m certainly willing to sit down and talk about any ideas that anybody has. I’ve always been willing to do that. We’ve always been willing to do that.”

Carter said there are nowhere near 51 members who want to do anything else to the private option. But even after months of debate and discussion, Carter said he’ll keep talking with legislators who have ideas about how to overcome the impasse.

“I’m certainly more than happy to discuss [the private option], from down-in-the-weeds details all the way to the procedural reality of where we are right now.”

The reality is that 27 representatives continue to holdout, leaving the House only 2 votes shy of the needed three-fourths supermajority to keep funding the program. But those 27 continue to dig in their heels.

Republican State Representative Bruce Cozart is one of them. He introduced an amendment to separate the private option from the rest of the Department of Human services budget, which is likely to garner very little support. He still maintains that the majority must appeal to minority’s demands, however.

“I think we still have to make a statement and make somebody else step up and say ‘we don’t want what you want. We know you don’t like what we like.’ But we’ve got to come together and find a medium. Either that or somebody’s going to have to step out. You know, if somebody wants to step out of the 27 or get it down to where it’s just 25, they need to do that. I’m not pushing them out, we’re not trying to do that,” he said.

Cozart says he and the other 26 members who have voted against the bill so far see a couple of possibilities if the rest of the House refuses to make changes.

“You know basically we either make a stand and we stay and kill the budget or if somebody’s not really strong enough, they’ll step off...I’m not promting anybody to step off, because I don’t want to say that. But we want to pass a budget.”

With the end of the fiscal session looming, it’s unclear when the House will take the next vote on the private option.