Senate Budget Chair: Medicaid Expansion Essential For Rural Arkansas’ Future

by Roby Brock ( 3 views 

State Sen. Larry Teague (D-Nashville), co-chair of the Joint Budget Committee, says without Medicaid’s expansion he’s certain that rural Arkansas will lose jobs.

In an interview for Talk Business Arkansas’ daily update, Teague said that he still has questions regarding potential expansion and he’s not tried to stake out territory on the issue, but he is adamant that adequate health care is a must for potential job creation and the survival of the state’s rural hospitals.

“I’ve not staked out any ground yet, but let me tell you that I am a rural advocate. I’m a product of rural Arkansas, I represent rural Arkansas, and I love rural Arkansas. I already am aware of the health care problems we have in rural Arkansas. It’s a long way to the hospital, it’s a long way to a specialist. And I believe that if we don’t expand it, our few remaining rural hospitals are going to be at risk,” Teague said.

“It’ll be hard for me to be against it because I understand that if we lose our rural hospitals we’ve brought our last job to rural Arkansas, our last corporate job,” he added. “When a corporation that has a plant in Nashville is looking to expand and they’re checking off their check list over where to do that and they look and see there’s no health care in Nashville or there’s no health care in wherever, then they’re going to set that aside and move on to the next plant where there is health care for their employees. It’s an important issue in corporate America, I believe.”

Teague said this weekend Gov. Mike Beebe (D) will meet with U.S. Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to discuss questions state lawmakers have about the Medicaid program’s flexibility. Her answers will dictate the fate of the low-income health care program with legislators, he says.

“I think until we know whether we’re going to get some help out of the expansion I just think we’re hung up there,” Teague said.

He’s also interested in a vote on the matter at some point during this session.

“If you’re asking me if we voted on it this afternoon, would it pass? It wouldn’t come anywhere close I don’t think,” he said. “I don’t know that it passes ever, but we’ve got to get to a point where we’re willing to say nay or yea. Let’s either say ‘Yes, we’re going to do it,’ and move on or let’s say, ‘No, we’re not going to do it,’ and move on.

Teague discussed the major budget issue in more depth in the interview below (or mp3 here). He also discussed his reasons for supporting a controversial voter ID bill and his effort to push for a “Buy America” bill for public projects in Arkansas.