Arkansas House approves ‘Private Option,’ goes to Beebe for signature

by The City Wire staff ( 3 views 

On a fifth and final effort, the Arkansas House of Representatives passed a funding measure for the private option health insurance program. The bill passed the House by a 76-24 margin.

In week one of the session, House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, called for votes on the private option on four different days. The funding measure never cleared the 75% vote threshold needed for passage. In week two, Carter adopted a different tactic choosing to meet with members to negotiate possible changes to secure the additional votes needed for the proposal.

Two weeks ago, the State Senate passed its version of the funding bill (SB 111), 27-8, with no votes to spare.

Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, had opposed the measure previously, but he spoke for the bill on Tuesday (March 4) outlining several of his reasons for changing his position.

”There will be people who are hurt if I don’t vote for this. I don’t want to do that,” Hammer said, implying that lower income workers would benefit from continuation of the program.

Hammer also said he would vote against the measure next January if the private option did not meet “measurable success.”

Two other House members – Rep. Les Carnine, R- Rogers, and Rep. Mary Lou Slinkard, R-Gravette – both voted yes for the first time in this fiscal session. Carnine and Slinkard are term limited in the House and are not running for re-election.

With passage in the House, the bill now heads to Gov. Mike Beebe (D) for signature. The Governor supports the private option, which takes federal Medicaid expansion money provided by the Affordable Care Act and allows it to be used to subsidize private health insurance plans for lower income workers.

The Republican-led legislature crafted the private option in conjunction with Gov. Beebe as an alternative to straight Medicaid expansion allowed by the Affordable Care Act. Arkansas’ plan, which was approved by the federal government and passed into law in the 2013 session, allows Medicaid dollars to be used to subsidize private health insurance plans in an exchange where lower-income workers can shop for health coverage.