The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas are throwing their weight behind the “private option” plan to move Medicaid expansion dollars into a legislative plan that would subsidize health insurance for low-income workers in a forthcoming insurance exchange.

The State Chamber and AIA are among the most influential business lobbying groups at the state capitol and represent major employers and mid-size and small businesses across Arkansas.

“Arkansas has a unique and special opportunity to help address healthcare coverage needs for low-income Arkansans through a private insurance model,” said Randy Zook, president & CEO of the State Chamber/AIA. “Our hope is that by increasing enrollment in the private insurance market and encouraging competition in the health insurance marketplace, we will see more Arkansans obtain healthcare coverage and ultimately lower costs for those services. This action will also ensure that Arkansas businesses are not hit with a de facto tax increase from fines that would apply if the state does not move ahead on this issue.”

Arkansas lawmakers have received permission from federal officials to shift its designated Medicaid expansion money into subsidized health insurance plans for low-income workers in an insurance exchange that will be crafted as a result of the federal health care law.

“There is no question that a healthier workforce means a more productive workforce for Arkansas’s economy,” said Zook. “We applaud those working diligently on this very promising proposal including House and Senate leadership and Governor Beebe.”

Sen. David Sanders (R-Little Rock) has been instrumental in crafting the private option plan. He said he’s glad to have the groups’ support.

“I’m always thrilled that various groups are engaged in the public policy process. My focus since day one has been to try to get the policy right and that makes the best sense for the state of Arkansas. We continue to work, it’s not finished yet,” said Sanders.

Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Searcy), who also has been a supporter of the private option plans, said he appreciated the chamber’s endorsement.

“I know they sat on the sidelines and let the process work its way through. I’m appreciative for that. I think we have a better product,” Dismang said.

Another architect of the private option plan, Rep. John Burris (R-Harrison), chair of the House Public Health committee, seemed lukewarm to the endorsement.

“It’s not really impactful for groups who lobbied for Medicaid expansion in the past to now support a better alternative,” he said. “Lots of organizations have lobbied for their own self-interests. We’re just interested in crafting the best public policy for the people of Arkansas.”

Zook said neither the state chamber nor the AIA has lobbied for Medicaid expansion.

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