The Focus Is On Medicaid as Legislative Session Begins Today

by Andrew DeMillo  on Monday, Jan. 14, 2013 7:33 am  

Medicaid is the biggest issue facing members of the 89th General Assembly, who gather Monday.

Beebe and state health officials have argued the expansion would help the state by cutting down the costs Arkansas hospitals face for uncompensated care. He's also noted that other states will take advantage of the expansion even if Arkansas doesn't.

"We're going to be paying for this Medicaid expansion, whether we take it or not," Beebe said.

Republicans in general have opposed the Medicaid expansion, especially after an election where many GOP candidates ran on a pledge to oppose the new federal health care law at the state level. But Lamoureux and Carter have left open the possibility of a compromise that would allow for expansion in exchange for changes to the program that Republicans believe would save money, such as drug testing and co-pays for some on Medicaid.

The federal government's directive to states that they can't opt for a partial expansion that would add fewer people to the rolls than the law envisioned while still receiving full federal funding has hurt that hope for a compromise, Lamoureux said.

"Hopefully, we could meet in the middle somewhere, where there's some degree of expansion that covers the people that maybe the Democratic members want to see covered in the bottom half of the total eligible pool and couple that with the conservative reforms that others wanted," Lamoureux said. "When you say it's all or nothing, you really take away that ability to have a negotiation."

The Medicaid debate could also determine how much room the state has for tax cuts, with Republicans pushing for more in reductions than Beebe has originally proposed. Beebe proposed reducing the state's grocery tax from 1.5 percent to 0.125 percent. The tax cut would be triggered if the state's obligations in several areas, including court-mandated desegregation payments to three school districts, decrease by $35 million over six months.

Carter has said House members are interested in cuts to the state's income taxes, while Lamoureux said interest in the Senate is more geared toward cutting the sales tax manufacturers pay for energy and other reductions aimed at helping businesses. They say the first step will be determining how much, if anything, the state can afford in cuts.

"I think there's still room to have that debate," Carter said.

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