The Arkansas House of Representatives met for more than two hours in a “committee of the whole” on Monday (April 8) to discuss a Republican plan to reform the state’s Medicaid program and expand health insurance coverage through a forthcoming federal health care exchange.

Lawmakers and Gov. Mike Beebe (D) have obtained permission from federal officials to use Medicaid expansion money promised in the federal health care law to subsidize insurance for low-income Arkansas workers. The money would help currently uninsured citizens who earn up to 138% of the federal poverty level to obtain insurance.

In Monday’s marathon meeting, Rep. John Burris (R-Harrison), chair of the House Public Health committee, laid out details and answered questions from House members related to HB 1143, a measure that provides the framework for the GOP plan.

The bill, which has a companion bill SB 1020, charges the Department of Human Services to:

  • Maximize available service options
  • Promote accountability, personal responsibility, and transparency;
  • Encourage and reward healthy outcomes and responsible choices; and
  • Promote efficiencies that will deliver value to taxpayers.

A provision of the bill requires DHS to promote insurance coverage in the exchange for children and parents currently utilizing the ARKids First program. Populations from 0% to 17% of the federal poverty level would be included. The program would also allow for cost-sharing in certain situations.

“This is probably going to be the most consequential vote any of us will make all session,” Burris said in this report filed by David Goins with our content partner, KARK Ch. 4. “Under this private option if you are a working age adult without a disability, you’re going to be on private health insurance and Medicaid will be returned to exactly who it should be, which is aged, blind and disabled.”

Goins noted there is still considerable doubt whether there is sufficient support in the Republican controlled House to gain 75% support needed to pass an appropriation bill to fund the legislation. That funding bill was amended earlier today as part of DHS’ Medicaid Division appropriation.

The appropriation bill contains permission to spend the federal money as well as collects revenue from other sources and place it in a Health Care Independence Program Trust Fund.

The DHS spending bill, which requires a supermajority of 75 votes in the House, also includes funding for all salaries in the Medicaid division as well as billions of dollars in funding for nursing homes, prescription drugs, hospitals, infant care and ArKids First.

Burris cautioned colleagues against going home at the end of the session without a vote.

“The one thing that none of us can do is make the mistake of thinking that doing nothing means that nothing happens, because lots of things happen,” Burris said.

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