State Sen. Johnny Key (R-Mountain Home) says his Republican colleagues are advocating a slower approach to Medicaid reform to test assumptions about economic projections and to ensure a more accurate budgeting process.
Appearing on this week's TV edition of Talk Business, Key said that members of the GOP caucus have asked legislative researchers to provide additional analysis of a recent report from state Medicaid director Andy Allison and a 2010 Medicaid study conducted by UA economist Kathy Deck. Both reports show that additional Medicaid funding would be a significant stimulus to the Arkansas health care economy.
“We are taking an approach right now of looking at the underlying assumptions. We have asked the Bureau of Legislative Research to run their numbers. We've asked them to check with DHS on some of these assumptions,” said Key, a member of the Joint Budget Committee.
“One of the big parts is the new general revenue that may come in as a part of this infusion of federal money, but we're not sure exactly how they based that increase in revenue. We understand where they say new people will be hired, but we're also wondering if hospitals will actually hire those people, will doctors hire those people?” Key said.
“There are several things that go into this equation that we want to have a better understanding of before we say 'yes, we agree' or 'no, we disagree,'” Key added.
Senator Key said critics who complain that Republicans are delaying a potential Medicaid expansion are not thinking in the long-term.
“It's not a stall tactic because this isn't going to be effective until 2014 anyway, this new infusion of money,” said Key. “We want to make sure in the legislative budgeting process that we have enough time to answer all of these questions and not just are we going to expand Medicaid, but are there some fundamental changes we need to make to the Medicaid process, to the administration of Medicaid that will help garner some savings.”
Gov. Mike Beebe (D) is exploring the possible expansion of Medicaid in Arkansas in the wake of a U.S. Sup
reme Court ruling, which said states cannot be penalized for opting out of this aspect of the federal health care law.
Last week, Key and four other Republican legislative leaders asked the Beebe administration to “slow the process” and consider reforms to the state Medicaid program, including drug testing for recipients, higher co-pays, and using technology to reduce waste and fraud.
Key said from his private conversations with the Governor he is convinced that Beebe is asking the federal government the right questions to answer legislative concerns, such as opting out at a later date and accepting fewer Medicaid applicants instead of the entire universe of around 250,000 who may be eligible for additional benefits in Arkansas.
He also said he wants the state to explore more flexibility in administering Medicaid benefits, such as through health savings accounts or greater patient control of spending.
“Ultimately, it's going to come down to the dollars. Ten years from now, twenty years from now, what's this going to mean to our taxpayers,” Key said.
On another hot capitol topic, Key expressed reservations about moving too quickly to change laws regarding the ballot petition process.
Key sits on the Senate State Agencies Committee, which oversees referrals for potential ballot measures as well as laws regarding the initiative and referendum process.
In the last two weeks, potential citizen-led initiatives on medical marijuana, casinos and raising the severance tax have had invalidation rates for signatures ranging from 44% to 71%. The signature failures have raised red flags regarding potential fraud in the collection process.
“I don't know that we need to rush out and change the whole process based on two situations where in essence, the only way to say this, is someone got ripped off,” Key said.
He said there have been discussions among legislators to potentially reject the 30-day extension period to gather signatures if a rejection rate is too high. Key said there seems to be little support for changing the number of signatures required to qualify issues for voter consideration.
You can watch the full interview with Key in the video below.