| LITTLE ROCK
LITTLE ROCK Feb 24 Arkansas lawmakers will try
once again to provide funding this week for the state's Private
Option medical insurance plan that has drawn interest from other
states' lawmakers, who see it 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 four votes.
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 Monday,
and every day after that until it passes, he said.
The program uses federal Medicaid funds from the Affordable
Care Act, or Obamacare, to help buy health insurance coverage
for low-income Arkansans, many of whom would otherwise be
assigned to Medicaid or have their treatment costs absorbed by
doctors and other healthcare providers.
This appeals to some conservative lawmakers who want to
provide healthcare for the uninsured and believe a
private-sector option makes more sense than enrolling more
people in the federal Medicaid program.
It also fits into the plans of the Obama administration,
which would like to see states use federal Medicaid money to
provide some form of insurance for lower-income residents.
Both houses in the Arkansas legislature are controlled by
Republicans, who are opposed to Obamacare and divided on whether
the Private Option is a reasonable alternative.
The program, crafted by Republican legislators who worked
with Governor Mike Beebe, a Democrat, was enacted last year.
"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 since been adopted or considered
for use in some form by several other states, including
Republican strongholds such as Utah, and battleground states in
presidential elections, including Pennsylvania, Michigan and
"Pragmatic folks have said, 'We may not like it, we may have
voted against it, but as long as we've got it, let's take care
of our own people'," Beebe continued.
"From pure arithmetic, it's pretty much a no-brainer."
But opponents in the Arkansas General Assembly said that
both the Private Option and the Affordable Care Act would prove
financially disastrous and represent an unacceptable expansion
State Representative Nate Bell, a Republican from Mena,
Arkansas, and a leading opponent of the Private Option program,
answered "both" when asked if conservative opposition to the
plan was fiscal or philosophical.
Bell, who voted against the program in 2013, advocates
passing the appropriation this year, but only after attaching
amendments that he says could make it easier for the financing
to wither in the 2015 legislative session.
Bell's language strips from the funding bill all money for
outreach - advertising and marketing intended to increase
enrollment in the Private Option - that its advocates say is
important to broadening participation and holding down costs.
The Democratic governor and the program's legislative
advocates have accepted that the amendments may be the price
they have to pay to win the additional Republican votes needed
to keep it funded.
Beebe has warned that failure to continue the Private Option
would destroy his proposed $5 billion budget for the fiscal year
beginning July 1 because the savings the program anticipates
would compensate for millions of dollars in state tax cuts that
Republicans demanded in 2013.
Last week, the 100-member House fell about five votes short
of the 75 votes needed to continue funding.
"It boils down to Obamacare,"said state Senator Larry
Teague, a Democrat from Nashville, Arkansas, and the co-chair of
the legislature's powerful Joint Budget Committee.
Legislation with "any connection at all" to Obama's
signature healthcare law is enough to doom it among some
Republicans, Teague said.
(Reporting by Steve Barnes; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing
by Jan Paschal)