Arkansas Legislators Seek Details on Medicaid Deal

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Sunday, Mar. 3, 2013 2:05 pm  

The announcement last week that the Obama administration had given Arkansas permission to pursue the plan as an alternative to expanding Medicaid eligibility alters a debate that legislators had said would be the top issue of this legislative session. (Photo by Stephanie Dunn)

LITTLE ROCK — Republican legislators who had resisted expanding Medicaid in Arkansas say they're encouraged by a new plan that would allow funds from the federal-state program to purchase private insurance for the newly eligible, but say they need more details on how such a system would work.

The announcement last week that the Obama administration had given Arkansas permission to pursue the plan as an alternative to expanding Medicaid eligibility alters a debate that legislators had said would be the top issue of this legislative session. But state officials and legislators say the idea still has hurdles to face in a majority-Republican Legislature that has generally opposed a straight-up expansion of Medicaid.

"It really just opened up 100 new questions," said House Public Health Committee Chairman John Burris, R-Harrison.

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Under the proposal, low-income citizens — those who make up to 138 percent of the poverty line, which amounts to $15,415 per year — would receive private insurance purchased using federal Medicaid dollars. The insurance would be purchased through the exchange created under the federal health care law.

The money would cover the cost of the private insurance premiums, but the state would have the flexibility to impose co-pays and other charges.

The federal government would pay the full cost of the health care expansion for the first three years, after which point the state's portion will begin to gradually increase to 10 percent of the cost.

The concept of putting 215,000 uninsured people on private plans offered through the exchange is appealing to Burris and other Republicans, who say the state's Medicaid program can't handle adding that many people to its rolls.

"You are creating a conservative market-based consumer-friendly health care system as opposed to expanding an already broken Medicaid system that's insolvent and provides lower quality of care," Burris said.

State Human Services officials say administrative costs would drop in the long run, and that adding that many people could help strengthen the state's private insurance market.

"Our philosophy has always been we ought to be doing services if it's not available elsewhere," State DHS Director John Selig said last week. "If the private market can serve these people, we in Medicaid don't have any particular desire to."

Selig said the details the state still needs to work out is how to put 215,000 more people on the exchange, which would more than double the number officials had originally anticipated for the insurance marketplace.

 

 

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