Arkansas General Assembly
8:38 pm
Thu February 20, 2014

Private Option Passes In Senate, Just Misses In House

The Arkansas State Senate Chamber
The Arkansas State Senate Chamber
Credit Chris Hickey / KUAR

In what was expected to be a close but almost certain vote, the Arkansas State Senate passed the appropriation bill for the private option, the healthcare plan that extends coverage to poor residents. Later in the afternoon Thursday, the House of Representatives again fell short of passing the bill.

On a 27 to 8 vote, the  Senate barely nudged past the three-fourths majority needed for the funding bills. Preceding the vote Thursday morning, State Senators Alan Clark, Brian King and Jim Hendren spoke against the SB 111, which funds the Department of Human Services Medical Servies division, where the private option is overseen.

The three Republican Senators outlined their fundamental mistrust in the federal government's policies sprouting from the Affordable Care Act, while also expressing worries that accepting the private option as a state program would ultimately contribute to an increase in the national debt a burden to Arkansans. In his speech, Hendren first praised his colleagues on both sides of the issue for the opportunity of a “fair and respectful debate” while in turn seeking to try and “clear up myths” around debate on the program and the bill's place in the state budget.

Senator Alan Clark, a Republican, thanked other members of the body for their civility in debating the private option. He said it was “ironic” that the main architects of the private option, which is generally regarded as a form of expanded Medicaid—a a government program anathema to many conservatives—were Republican. Concluding his speech, he said, “I never try to miss an opportunity to say 'I told you so'. 

State Senator Stephanie Flowers was the only member of the chamber to speak for the bill, saying that Arkansas had long been a poor state in large part due to policies enacted by the state legislature over the years. She indicated that she didn't want to see this legislative assembly to follow that history. The House is also expected to vote on the bill Thursday. “Sometimes we're going to have to help someone else to help ourselves,” she said.

The Senate until this week was one vote shy of reaching the supermajority. On Tuesday, State Senator Jane English reversed her “nay” vote from the previous legislative session into a “yea” vote this time, after she was promised funding for economic development initiatives to provide workforce training at community colleges around the state.