The Arkansas House of Representatives comfortably passed a bill that spells out the framework for a “private option” health insurance plan that would use Medicaid expansion funds to subsidize private insurance.

However, a higher threshold of support will be needed to fund the measure.

After passionate pleas from supporters and opponents of the HB 1143, the Health Insurance Independence Act, House members approved the bill 62-37.  A Senate companion measure, SB 1020, also cleared the House today on a 63-35 vote.

While those margins were more than the minimum 51 votes needed, it is substantially far away from the 75 votes needed to assure a companion funding bill’s passage. A vote on the funding bill could come as early as Friday.

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.  By some state estimates, that universe could include as many as 250,000 Arkansans.

The private option bills charge 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.

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Talk Business Staff