Arkansas Medicaid Impasse Hits New Heights

Insurance for nearly 100,000 people is on the line, but — for now — the state’s anti-Obamacare critics aren’t budging.

National Journal
Sophie Novack
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Sophie Novack
Feb. 21, 2014, 8:10 a.m.

The Arkan­sas House has voted four times this week on a bill to re­new the state’s Medi­caid ex­pan­sion pro­gram, and it’s  not done yet.

The le­gis­la­tion failed to reach the needed su­per­ma­jor­ity in the House for the fourth time on Fri­day. The 71-18 vote came up four short of the needed three-quar­ters threshold to pass spend­ing bills in the Le­gis­lature.

At ques­tion is the Arkan­sas “private op­tion,” which takes fed­er­al funds for Medi­caid ex­pan­sion un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act and ap­plies them to private ex­change plans for low-in­come in­di­vidu­als.

The Sen­ate passed the bill Thursday on a 27-8 vote.

If the le­gis­la­tion fails, the nearly 100,000 Arkansans who have already en­rolled in the pro­gram will lose their cov­er­age after June 30.

The fund­ing for the private op­tion is part of the lar­ger ap­pro­pri­ations bill for the state’s Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment, so the broad­er pack­age ul­ti­mately has to pass at some point. But it could pass without fund­ing for the Medi­caid plan, and that fund­ing will be left be­hind if one fac­tion of state Re­pub­lic­ans get their way.

Law­makers on both sides re­main con­fid­ent that the private-op­tion fund­ing will be re­newed even­tu­ally, ac­cord­ing to the Arkan­sas Times. But not be­fore a series of failed votes and a heavy dose of le­gis­lat­ive drama.

The mar­gin of ap­prov­al to re­new the private op­tion is so razor-thin that mem­bers were scram­bling to find the ne­ces­sary votes even as the speeches went on. The House re­cessed sev­er­al times Thursday af­ter­noon as ne­go­ti­ations con­tin­ued.

At one point, state po­lice were sent to fetch a rep­res­ent­at­ive who left the floor ahead of the vote.

Re­pub­lic­an House Speak­er Davy Carter has said law­makers will con­tin­ue vot­ing un­til the bill is passed. A fifth vote is sched­uled for Tues­day af­ter­noon.

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