| LITTLE ROCK, Ark., March 4
LITTLE ROCK, Ark., March 4 The Arkansas House of
Representatives voted on Tuesday to fund the state's so-called
"Private Option" medical insurance program that has drawn
interest from lawmakers in other states as an alternative to
The measure, which had earlier passed the state Senate,
received 76 votes, one more than necessary in the 100-member
House. This ended a more than week-long standoff over the health
insurance program for lower-income residents.
The Private Option uses $915 million in federal Medicaid
funds from the Obama Administration's Affordable Care Act, or
Obamacare, to purchase health insurance for employed individuals
whose earnings hover just above the federal poverty level.
Those with incomes below the poverty line would be routed to
the standard Medicaid program.
Medicaid is a government program that provides free or
low-cost health coverage to low-income citizens. Obamacare
requires participants to buy health insurance from a private
company or employer. It provides subsidies for those who cannot
afford insurance but make too much money to qualify for
The debate in Arkansas was watched closely by several other
states that have adopted the approach or are considering it,
including such presidential election swing states as Ohio,
Pennsylvania and Michigan.
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.
The Private Option was crafted by Governor Mike Beebe, a
Democrat, and Republican legislative leaders.
Both houses in the Arkansas legislature are controlled by
Republicans opposed to Obamacare but divided on whether the
Private Option is a reasonable alternative.
A bloc of staunch-conservative Republican lawmakers had
stymied the appropriation, complaining that the state's share of
Private Option funding would soon prove too costly.
They also said Obamacare was a gross and intrusive expansion
of the federal government that would deepen the national debt.
About 125,000 low-income Arkansans already have enrolled in
the Private Option or have applied.
Beebe had warned that failure to fund the plan would destroy
his proposed $5 billion state budget for the fiscal year
beginning July 1.
While expressing opposition to the Affordable Care Act,
Beebe defended the hybrid program as "pragmatic."