Gov. Hutchinson meeting with Obama, Trump teams about health care

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 122 views 

Gov. Asa Hutchinson will meet with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Director Sylvia Burwell Monday in Washington in hopes of securing a waiver for his Arkansas Works Medicaid expansion plan, and then will meet with the transition team of President-elect Donald Trump.

The meeting with Burwell is meant to secure the long-awaited waiver from DHHS to allow the state to enact Arkansas Works, Hutchinson’s sequel to the private option.

The state must have the waiver in order to enact Arkansas Works by January 1. Hutchinson said he hopes to secure that waiver from Burwell Monday.

“Obviously we’re (in) a very short time frame,” he said. “We’ve already sent out the notices to continue on it. We’ve received assurances that they’ll work with us on it, but they haven’t signed off on our waivers yet, and we hope we can get that done.”

The private option was created in 2013 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled states could choose whether or not to expand their Medicaid population under Obamacare. While many Republican-led states declined to participate in the expansion, Arkansas created the private option, which uses Medicaid dollars to purchase private insurance for Arkansans with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level.

The private option was enacted under Gov. Mike Beebe and has always been resisted by some Republicans in the Legislature. The number of Arkansans enrolled increased to 324,318 as of the end of September – higher than the 250,000 originally forecast. The federal government is sending the state $1.6 billion in taxpayer dollars this year and paying 100 percent of the cost. Starting in 2017, the state chips in 5 percent, a number that rises to 10 percent by 2020.

Hutchinson’s version, Arkansas Works, requires a $13 co-pay from higher-income recipients and makes other reforms.

Hutchinson said Sunday that the specifics of the meeting with the Trump transition team are still being arranged, and that the meeting will be Monday or on Tuesday morning.

He said state policymakers want to help shape health care reforms under the Trump administration. He said he is hopeful about the future of reform under Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services designee, U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., a physician and Obamacare critic who has offered specific ideas for a replacement, along with Trump’s designee to be the director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Seema Verma.

“You look at what he’s done in Congress, it is to push for more flexibility for the states, so his message is consistent with mine,” he said. “I think he’ll be easy to work with. And then the relationship that we have with (Verma) … she should be a great partner. We’re very well connected with her, and so I think there’ll be a whole new atmosphere after the new administration goes into place, but we still have to work through this transition.”