Mike Beebe: Don't Delay Medicaid Vote Until Next Year

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 1:45 pm  

Gov. Mike Beebe tells reporters that he wants lawmakers to vote on the Medicaid expansion during this year's session rather than wait until next year. (Photo by Mike Pirnique)

NORTH LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said Monday he doesn't want to delay a vote until next year on whether to expand Medicaid under the federal health care law, but that he won't yet rush lawmakers on the matter.

Beebe, a Democrat who has urged lawmakers to support the expansion, told reporters that he still prefers the issue be taken up during this year's session. Expanding Medicaid has faced resistance from the Republican-controlled House and Senate, and lawmakers have suggested they may wait until next year.

"Why would you delay it when you can do it now?" Beebe told reporters after speaking to the Arkansas County Judges Association.

Beebe told the county judges group that he realizes he faces an "uphill" fight in winning support for expansion, which would require a three-fourths vote in the Legislature.

Lawmakers are now in the fifth week of this year's session, and despite Beebe and legislative leaders citing Medicaid as the top issue, there's been little movement in either chamber.

"They should not be rushed or forced into a decision in the next couple of weeks, but sometime between now and the end of the session, they ought to be able to gather enough information they want to gather from as many sources" to make a decision, Beebe said.

Lawmakers will return next year for its fiscal session, which is shorter and focuses primarily on budget issues. The Legislature is in the middle of its regular session this year, which is longer and also includes non-budget issues.

Beebe has already said he's opposed to calling a special session if Medicaid expansion isn't considered this year.

Republicans have said they want more details from the federal government on how much flexibility Arkansas might have to make changes to Medicaid if they choose expansion.

For example, Beebe has asked U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius whether purchasing private insurance through the exchange is an option for people that make 100 to 138 percent of the poverty level — or between $11,170 and $15,415 — if Arkansas agrees to expand Medicaid.

"If we can get the information we're looking for and folks can get comfortable with some version of expansion during the session, then sure we'll consider it now," said Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe. "If not, then I think you should leave open the possibilities of either a special session or waiting until the fiscal session."

House Speaker Davy Carter also said he'd prefer to deal with the expansion now, but wouldn't rule out the possibility of putting the decision off.

"I want to take care of it this session if at all possible," House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, told reporters. "But I'm not going to be rushed into making that decision if there are still moving parts."

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