Private Option Again Fails To Pass, More Votes To Come

Feb 19, 2014

Foes of the private option present proposals to completely stop any further enrollment in the program. Governor Mike Beebe and House Speaker Davy Carter say the plan is politically unrealistic.
Credit Chris Hickey / KUAR News

Arkansas Legislative leaders say they are finished negotiating new terms relating to the state’s private option alternative to Medicaid expansion, after the bill to appropriate funds for the program failed to get the needed votes to pass.

The Arkansas House voted 68 to 27 Wednesday, once again failing to reach a three-fourths majority required by the Arkansas Constitution to fund the Department of Human Service Division of Medical Services, this time without as many campaign speeches preceding the vote, as House Speaker Davy Carter noted. Carter says opponents must concede that they are still vastly outnumbered at the Capitol.

“If there was a vote on the House floor to end the private option, it would fail miserably,” he said.

So, what’s holding up the House from getting the three-fourths majority to pass?

“My sense of it is—having been here a long time—is that both the senate and the house are kind of waiting on the other one to hurry up and do something,” said State Representative Hank Wilkins, a Democrat from Pine Bluff.

Wilkins pointed to the attitude among some legislators that the few holdouts on the private option are waiting for the political cover of their counterparts in the other chamber to approve the bill first, an attitude lost on Wilkins.

“I don’t believe that’s what defines leadership,” Wilkins said.

Many Democrats bemoaned the recent amendments by Republican State Representative Nate Bell to ban advertising for the healthcare program. House Minority Leader Greg Leding said they were a regrettable compromise.

“We were assured that those amendments would bring along a few more votes and they haven’t....If Representative Bell is the only vote we get out of that, then that’s absolutely not worth it to us,” he said.

As a protest, Leding said Democrats will continue to block appropriations for other areas, like the Secretary of State’s office, which oversees the new controversial Voter ID requirements.

Nevertheless a group of republican private option opponents presented new proposals to amend that program’s funding bill, which would essentially cap all enrollment by this summer. Republican State Representative Bob Ballinger is one of the amendments’ key proponents.

“The reality is one way or another, in November, a lot of the votes that are taken are going to be about this. So if this program is going to go away, we don’t want a lot of people to be hurt by it,” said Ballinger.

"That’s what we’re trying [to] keep from doing,” said Governor Mike Beebe, speaking to reporters. “I don’t know how ending it is any compromise. You got over 100,000 people that are directly affected. You got hospitals that are going to be directly affected every year from now on as long as the federal [Affordable Care Act] is in existence.”

Supporters of the private option say the votes for its reauthorization should be secured by the end of the week.