Three of the biggest advocates for expanding Arkansas' Medicaid program lobbied for their cause on Wednesday, while some of the biggest critics of expansion peppered them with questions and concerns.
The Hospital and Medicaid Study Subcommittee of the Legislative Council heard comments from Arkansas Surgeon General Dr. Joe Thompson, State Medicaid Director Andy Allison, and Arkansas Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford on Wednesday (Aug. 15).
All 3 state policy makers said that a state expansion of Medicaid under the federal health care law would be beneficial. They argued that the expansion would improve the health of lower-income Arkansans and reduce health insurance premiums for current policy holders.
John Lyon with our content partner, the Arkansas News Bureau, reports:
All three said the state would have much to gain by expanding Medicaid to include people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, as the federal Affordable Health Care Act proposes. Between 200,000 and 250,000 more people would be covered by the federal-state health care program for the poor, the elderly and the disabled under the expansion, they said.
The federal poverty level for a family of four is $23,050. Under the expansion, a family of four earning up to $31,809 would be eligible for Medicaid.
The Affordable Care Act provides subsidies to help people between 100 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level buy health insurance, but it provides no subsidies for people below 100 percent of the poverty level.
Medicaid in Arkansas is currently available only to people up to 17 percent of the poverty level, so people between 17 percent and 100 percent of the level would
not have access to health insurance without the expansion, Bradford said.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers quizzed Thompson, Bradford and Allison for most of the day.
Rep. David Meeks (R-Conway) expressed concerns over the debt burden Arkansas' acceptance of federal funds would cause, while Rep. John Burris (R-Harrison) questioned whether or not greater access to health care through a Medicaid expansion would alter personal habits.
“I know people that go to the ER,” Burris said. “Some of them are my cousins. And they don’t go because they don’t have access (to routine care). They go because they’re lazy.”
GOP lawmakers have urged Gov. Beebe and state officials to go slowly in determining whether or not Arkansas should expand its Medicaid program to the full extent allowed by the federal law. Beebe has said he's inclined to support an expansion if concerns over financial flexibility can be addressed. On Monday, Beebe said he had been given “preliminary” assurances that Arkansas would maintain flexibility to opt out of aspects of the expansion in future years.
Read more on Wednesday's hearing at this link.
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