Senate President Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, said he believes the votes for Arkansas Works will be found in the upcoming fiscal session and prospects for a special session to deal with a failed vote or other issues is not a goal of his.
Appearing on Talk Business & Politics, the Senate leader noted that supporters of Arkansas Works, the Medicaid expansion health insurance program championed by Gov. Hutchinson, is missing three potential pro-votes due to resignation and death.
“I’m not a big vote counter on the front end until we actually get into the session, because things change. Right now, members are asking questions of DHS, trying to get information back so they can make a good, educated decision about where they want to be on the program,” he said. “I think things that help are the fact that the governor has submitted the waiver request, for instance, for the work requirement. That provides ease to some of the members that in the past were not supportive of the program… Again, I think, with the governor’s commitment, DHS making sure the information’s available, at the end of the day, I think we’ll get there.”
Some legislators have been quietly discussing a potential special session after the fiscal session if the votes aren’t found for Arkansas Works. There are three pending special elections to the State Senate and one pending for the Arkansas House. The Senate outcomes could greatly alter the vote count.
Dismang says that’s not an option he wants to consider – for Arkansas Works or other looming legislative fixes.
“That’s not even where I want to go in the very near future. I think, again, we need to focus on making sure members have information. Let’s get to the session, see what happens. If it doesn’t pass, then we can move on to other options. But at this point, it is not my goal to have a special session on Arkansas Works, or really any other policy matter, for that,” Dismang said.
One issue that could necessitate a special session involves resolving new reimbursement rates for pharmacies on health insurance exchange plans through the state. Currently, pharmacists are highlighting problems with current plans that they contend are causing sharp losses on prescriptions. Dismang hopes a band-aid fix can be put in place and broader legislation can be considered in the 2019 regular session.
“There is no model for us to go base off of, of what we should do. I think it’s a pretty complicated decision, and would be complicated legislation to try to come up with in that short period of time,” he said. “In my mind, that’s an issue that we should be dealing with in the regular session. As far as the pricing, and making sure that there’s access for the members of the Arkansas Works program, I hope, and I believe, that Blue Cross Blue Shield and the other insurance agencies, are working to make sure that that access exists with the pharmacies, which means, providing for a proper reimbursement rate.”
Dismang also weighed in on the Sen. Jake Files controversy and the future of General Improvement Funds (GIF). Watch his full interview below.