Westerman Wants Expanded Medicaid Funds To Fix Highway Shortfall

May 21, 2015

Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Arkansas)
Credit Nathan Vandiver / KUAR

A measure filed Thursday by Arkansas's Fourth District Representative would direct expanded Medicaid funds to the ailing Federal Highway Trust Fund. Republican Bruce Westerman's bill would direct expanded medicaid funds to the Fund. The bill would lower the amount the federal government contributes to state Medicaid programs, expanded under the Affordable Care Act, by returning the federal matching rates to pre-expansion levels.

Westerman says this would generate 30 billion dollars a year for the Highway Trust Fund, which he says only needs 15 billion dollars to overcome a shortfall. The remainder would be put toward the national budget deficit. Rep. Westerman says he believes the president wouldn't veto the legislation if it passed.

“He has emphasized how he wants to see more transportation and infrastructure,” Westerman says.

The Federal Highway Trust Fund has seen a shortfall in recent months primarily because of revenue from Federal Gas Taxes not keeping inflationary pace with the costs of projects. This has caused delays and cancellations of many projects around the country, including Arkansas, because the Federal Highway Administration uses funds from the trust fund reimburse state projects. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department has said it has withdrawn 70 projects worth an estimated 282 million dollars because of the federal funding delays or reductions.

Westerman, an opponent of the President's healthcare law, says highway funding should be a higher priority than funding the cost of health coverage for low-income people

“Through Medicaid expansion we're putting able-bodied working age adults on the Medicaid and the Federal Government is picking up 100 percent of the tab,” he says. “I'm not asking the President to sign a bill that would repeal his trademark legislation...I'm just asking him to make it fair where the match rate on expansion is no more than the match rate on traditional Medicaid,”

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, traditional Medicaid match rates for states ranged between 50 and 70 percent, depending on the average personal income levels for residents of the state. In Arkansas, the match rate was 70 percent, meaning that under Westerman's plan, the state would need to pick up 30 percent of the cost for its Medicaid program if the bill became law today.

“If you look at how traditional Medicaid has been funded and how it's still funded, Traditional Medicaid is for [the] aged, blind, disabled and children,” says Westerman.

But states that have expanded Medicaid, like Arkansas through its private option, now have 100 percent of their costs reimbursed, until they gradually become responsible for 10 percent by 2020. Last month, about 101 million federal dollars were spent on Medicaid in Arkansas.