Arkansas Works opponents offer alternative plan that would reduce coverage, cap annual cost

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 183 views 

Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, an opponent of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Arkansas Works program, proposed what he is calling a compromise Tuesday where beneficiaries would go on traditional Medicaid rather than receive private insurance coverage.

Clark, backed by Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, and a handful of other Arkansas Works opponents, said he would vote for funding the Department of Human Services’ Division of Medical Services budget under certain conditions, including expanding Medicaid rather than purchasing private insurance.

Clark said the current system amounts to corporate welfare for insurance companies and for medical providers, who are paid less under Medicaid than they are by private insurance. He said the state has been siphoning the federal dollars to pay for other state programs.

“Is this about the poor? Is this about rural hospitals? Or is this about big business? Is this about money and special interests?” he asked.

He said he didn’t expect Arkansas Works supporters to agree with him.

“This is where we get to the point of hell freezing over,” he said.

On Thursday, the full Senate failed to achieve a required three-fourths majority to fund the Medical Services Division. The effort fell two votes short, 25-10.

That division administers Hutchinson’s Arkansas Works, which would continue the private option, the government program that uses federal Medicaid dollars to purchase private health insurance for adults with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level. It was created in response to the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. As of the end of January, 267,590 Arkansans were eligible for coverage. It received the necessary majority vote in a recent special session but must be funded with a three-fourths vote for funding.

Clark’s bill also would limit the covered population to adults with incomes up to 100% of the federal poverty level. Under the private option and under the terms of the waiver granted by the Obama administration, individuals are covered if their incomes are up to 138% of the level. Unlike Arkansas Works, dental and other types of coverage not required by the Affordable Care Act would not be included.

Clark said the program would end if Arkansas’ share of the program reaches $200 million a year. The state begins paying 5% of the cost of the program in 2017. That number rises to 10% by 2020. Clark also proposed that no taxpayer funds would be used to pay for abortion services or medication such as the “morning after pill,” which some consider an abortifacient.

The program also would require covered individuals who have access to employer-sponsored insurance to take advantage of that insurance. Arkansas Works also includes that provision.

Clark also called for a “massive overhaul” of the Department of Human Services.

He said other legislators support the plan but did not provide names.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s spokesman, J.R. Davis, said the proposal to move recipients from private insurance to Medicaid is “shortsighted. I’m not sure how that’s a more conservative fix to the current situation.”

Davis said the Obama administration has already said the state cannot accomplish some of Clark’s objectives and the compromises should have come during the policy discussion.

“Where were these compromises two weeks ago, three weeks ago, four weeks ago when the governor put out the Arkansas Works proposal?” he said.