Arkansas lawmakers, especially skeptical Republican legislators, see a framework for a longer-term private insurance solution for the state’s low income workers. Stakeholders in the state’s health care system also think that the federal government’s flexibility to use Medicaid expansion funds to supplement private insurance plans in a forthcoming insurance exchange could be beneficial.

On Sunday night’s Talk Business television program, Rep. John Burris (R-Harrison), chair of the House Public Health Committee, said the breakthrough between federal and state officials that could lead to an “Arkansas plan” is a step in the right direction.

“In short, we finally got some flexibility from the federal government that we’ve been asking for,” he said.

Burris stopped short of saying a supermajority of votes needed for passage exists, but he did say the potential was there.

“We don’t have a policy to vote on,” said Burris. “I think there was no appetite for Medicaid expansion and that’s why we’re here today. A supermajority, at least a majority of people said no to expanding a broken government program and that’s why we’re sitting here today having this discussion. We need to put together a plan. We need to find out if it can be the plan we talked about – a conservative, market-based, consumer-friendly plan that provides the best health care for the people of Arkansas. If we can get that, we might be able to get the votes.”

Also appearing on the program was Arkansas Hospital Association president Bo Ryall. He says his group is supportive of the new flexibility that federal health officials have given to the state.

“We thought it was a very positive move,” said Ryall. He suggested that hospitals, who write off hundreds of millions in health care expenses annually for treating uninsured patients, could benefit more under the private option plan than a straight Medicaid expansion. “The devil’s in the details, but I would say at this point right now if hospitals could be paid commercial insurance rates, that’s better than Medicaid rates that we could be paid.”

Late last week, Sen. David Sanders (R-Little Rock) also voiced optimism about a state-based solution thanks to the recently-approved flexibility from federal Medicaid officials. He credited Beebe and state health officials for listening to lawmakers’ concerns and approaching the feds for options.

“Just because a bunch of lawmakers asked questions and asked them to go to the table with possible options, they didn’t have to do that,” Sanders said. “To their credit, they did. I, for one, am grateful.”

You can view all of their interviews below (Sanders’ interview appears after Burris’).

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