A Model for States, Arkansas' Private Option At Risk

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 1:23 pm  

Beebe, who has ramped up his speeches and private lobbying in an attempt to save the program, said that losing more than $915 million in federal funding for the expansion would calamitous for the budget. He said the state is also counting on spending $89 million less to compensate hospitals for treating patients without insurance, and that the lost savings could mean serious cuts in other state priorities.

Human Services Director John Selig warned of damage to the state insurance market.

"If the private option goes away, I think you could see carriers leave Arkansas and you could see insurance rates rise for everyone," Selig said.

Republican opponents are skeptical of the consequences.

"That money wasn't there when we grew government, and I think we'd be ok if we cut it back," Sen. Bart Hester said earlier this month.

The suspense about the expansion's future has rattled some of those who have signed up for the coverage.

Lori Latch, 35, said she was looking forward to having health insurance for the first time since she was a teenager. She and her husband, who is self-employed, have racked up more than $5,000 in bills for emergency room visits.

"Financially, hopefully it's going to mean that we're not going to be in debt anymore," said Latch, 35. "I can't get a car or anything because of medical bills."

Health experts are watching to see whether Arkansas' decision affects other states weighing a similar expansion.

"I do think it would have national repercussions if it were defunded," said Joan Alker, executive director of Georgetown University's Center for Children and Families. "I think a lot of it will come down to the perception why it happened and we'll just have to see how it plays out."

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