Arkansas lawmakers to vote on funds for alternative to Obamacare

LITTLE ROCK Mon Feb 24, 2014 12:08pm EST

Cathey Park of Cambridge, Massachusetts shows her cast signed by U.S. President Barack Obama after he spoke about health insurance at Faneuil Hall in Boston October 30, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Cathey Park of Cambridge, Massachusetts shows her cast signed by U.S. President Barack Obama after he spoke about health insurance at Faneuil Hall in Boston October 30, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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LITTLE ROCK (Reuters) - Arkansas lawmakers will try once again this week to provide funding for the state's Private Option medical insurance plan that has drawn interest from lawmakers in other states as an alternative to Obamacare.

The Arkansas Senate approved the $915 million appropriation for the Private Option plan last week, but the House narrowly rejected it in several votes last week. Governor Mike Beebe, a Democrat who helped craft the plan with Republican lawmakers who control the statehouse, said failure to pass the funding could blow a hole in the budget.

"The very Republican anti-Washington healthcare contingent, when all this came out, that didn't want a state exchange now has come to the conclusion that they want to reverse their position and do a state exchange," Beebe told a news conference in Washington on Monday.

He warned that failure to pass the funding could lead to a loss of $89 million in projected savings coming from the Private Option, prompting drastic cuts in services.

House Speaker Davy Carter, a Republican and a Private Option supporter, has expressed confidence that funding will eventually be secured. The House will probably vote on the bill on Tuesday, and every day after that until it passes, he said.

Beebe has warned that failure to continue the Private Option would make his proposed $5 billion state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 untenable, because savings the program anticipates would compensate for tax cuts Republicans demanded.

Last week, the 100-member House fell just a few votes short of the 75 votes needed to continue funding.

The program uses federal Medicaid funds from the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, to help buy health insurance for low-income Arkansans, many of whom would otherwise be assigned to Medicaid or have treatment costs absorbed by doctors and other healthcare providers.

The plan appeals to some conservative lawmakers who want to provide healthcare for the uninsured through the private sector rather than the federal Medicaid program. It also fits the Obama administration's goal of seeing states use federal Medicaid money to provide insurance for lower-income residents.

Both houses in the Arkansas legislature are controlled by Republicans opposed to Obamacare but divided on whether the Private Option is a reasonable alternative.

"Republican governors and Republican states and anti-Obamacare and anti-federal government healthcare folks are saying, 'Gosh, we need to do what Arkansas is doing'," Beebe said in a Reuters interview last week.

The Arkansas experiment has been adopted or considered in some form by states including Republican strongholds such as Utah, and battleground states in presidential elections including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio.


Opponents in the Arkansas General Assembly said both the Private Option and the Affordable Care Act are too costly and represent an unacceptable expansion of government.

State Representative Nate Bell, a Republican from Mena, Arkansas, voted against the program in 2013.

He advocates passing the appropriation this year only with amendments such as eliminating money for advertising and marketing that advocates say is important to broaden participation and hold down costs.

The Democratic governor and the program's legislative advocates have accepted that such amendments may be necessary to win the additional Republican votes needed to keep it funded.

Senator Larry Teague, a Democrat from Nashville, Arkansas, and the co-chair of the legislature's Joint Budget Committee, said legislation with "any connection at all" to Obama's signature healthcare law is doomed among some Republicans.

(Additional reporting by David Morgan in Washington, DC; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Jan Paschal and David Gregorio)

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Comments (9)
COindependent wrote:
The feds could have done the same thing, by funding the private insurance premiums of the 35 million so-called “uninsured”. Instead, the President effectively nationalized the health insurance industry, a significant tool in implementing his social-engineering agenda to transform America.

ACA is the worst of all possible alternatives. The Constitution was structured so that the states were the sources of innovation within government–effectively 50 labs experimenting with a variety of alternatives, each addressing the needs of their citizens.

Instead, we have 2500 pages of a “one size fits all” model (literally) shoved down our throats by the political elite within the Beltway. These same individuals who are totally divorced from the reality of Main Street America. And, the country will pay a very heavy price for that decision.

Anyone who believes otherwise embraces the theology that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid represent their interests. “You have to pass it to know what’s in it!” tells the story to a T. And, our two Colorado Senators, Udall and Bennet, affirmed this legislation without even reading it, because party politics always takes precedent over the interests of the citizens of the this state.

Feb 24, 2014 9:35am EST  --  Report as abuse
njglea wrote:
Sorry, Arkansas. No more Medicaid funds for you to give to private insurers. Either play the national game and allow the poorest people in your state to participate in America’s Affordable Health Care Act or you are on your own. Taxpayers around the country do not want to pay your special-interest insurance cronies.

Feb 24, 2014 9:35am EST  --  Report as abuse
COindependent wrote:
@ njglea Do not minimize the fact that Medicaid is another form of transfer payments and income redistribution. The dollars that Washington distributes come from the citizens of the states that pay taxes.

This idea that Washington is benevolent is pure nonsense. It is only through taxation that Washington has the funds to bribe states. The profligate ways of the Beltway are not sustainable and they only individuals that will not be hurt are those that write and pass the legislation. The rest of us only have to look at the purchasing power of the dollars we earn to understand the reality.

Feb 24, 2014 10:00am EST  --  Report as abuse
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