Arkansas Governor-elect Asa Hutchinson says it will be January at the earliest before he decides whether to push for continuing the state’s Medicaid expansion program.
On Thursday, Hutchinson spoke to reporters for the first time since being elected two days earlier. He said the so-called 'private option,' which uses federal money to buy private insurance for low income Arkansans, has been good for the state in many ways. But with the state to eventually have to pay up to 10 percent of the cost, Hutchinson said he’ll work with state officials to determine if continuing it is realistic.
"We’ve got to work together to determine not just how it’s good for Arkansas, which clearly there’s the benefit to the hospitals, there’s benefit to the expansion of healthcare, but there’s the cost aspect to it, which I’ve said throughout the campaign needs to be measured," Hutchinson said.
More than 200,000 Arkansans now have coverage through the private option, but it will require support from three-fourths of the Arkansas Legislature to be continued. The 2015 session begins in January.
"Obviously you’ve got to bring legislative support for anything that we do and I’m going to continue to evaluate that," Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said he’d met with outgoing Governor Mike Beebe, calling him "extraordinarily helpful in terms of his comments, his guidance, whatever is needed during the transition."
Beebe defeated Hutchinson for Governor in 2006 and won re-election in 2010.
As Hutchinson prepares to take office, he announced Thursday that six people will serve on a steering committee for his transition team:
- Mike Carroll, a certified public accountant from Fort Smith
- Alec Farmer, a farmer and businessman from Jonesboro
- Stacy Hurst, a Little Rock City Director who lost a run for the legislature
- Steve Lux, a retired business executive who lives in Hot Springs Village
- Phillip Taldo, a realtor from Springdale
- Arnell Willis, a former state representative who is today mayor of Helena-West Helena
"It’s important for the transition team to reflect Arkansas and I believe that they do,” Hutchinson said, calling the team “geographically balanced, but also very loyal, supportive of me and who I consider close friends."
The transition team is being led by state Sen. Michael Lamoureux of Russellville. Hutchinson said they will be meeting with representatives of state agencies and making reports to him. The governor-elected said he will replace the heads of some agencies and asking others to stay on, at least in the short term.
Hutchinson also spoke about a surprise phone call he received on election night from President Barack Obama.
"It was a very gracious call, it was a congratulatory call. He importantly recognized the key role governors play in directing national policy and he wants to have a good partnership with the governors and I certainly expressed my support for that, my willingness to work with him on key issues that impact our state," Hutchinson said.