Private Option Opponents Hit Pause

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Wednesday, Mar. 5, 2014 10:13 am  

GOP opponents said the private option was no different than embracing the president's health care law, and they said the state couldn't afford the 10 percent cost it would eventually have to contribute.

"Three years from now, how are we going to pay for it? Five years from now, how are we going to pay for it? Ten years from now, how are we going to pay for it?" asked Rep. Joe Farrer, R-Austin, who voted against the bill. "If you can't answer those questions, why would you vote for this?"

National health policy experts say Arkansas' compromise opened the door for other Republican-leaning states to consider similar models. Other states exploring or pursuing similar ideas include Pennsylvania, Iowa and Virginia.

Beebe said the case for keeping the program was stronger than last year, when lawmakers were uncertain whether the federal government would approve Arkansas' model.

"If anything, it was even more compelling to do it this time than it was last time," Beebe told reporters after the vote.

Beebe has said rejecting the $915 million in federal funds for the private option would jeopardize other state services. Beebe's proposed $5 billion budget relies on $89 million in savings he says the private option will create by cutting down on hospitals' uncompensated care costs.

The legislation had stalled last month despite amendments aimed at swaying opponents. The changes to the program included a ban on the state spending money to promote the private option or other parts of the federal health law.

The private option's enrollment continued to grow as lawmakers debated the plan's future, with many eyeing the Legislature's debate to see whether they would lose their coverage.

Lori Latch, 35, of North Little Rock said she was relieved to see that the program would stay alive. Latch said the private option is giving her health insurance for the first time since she was a teenager.

"I'm really excited. I'm proud of them for getting it done finally," she said.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, broadcast or distributed.)



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