Primary Voters Mixed on Arkansas Private Option

by Jill Bleed, The Associated Press  on Wednesday, May. 21, 2014 7:26 am  

John Burris, one of the key Republican leaders behind the private option, faces a runoff against Scott Flippo for a state Senate seat. (Photo by Arkansas Times)

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas voters gave mixed signals Tuesday about the state's compromise Medicaid expansion plan, ousting one "private option" backer from his legislative office, nominating another for re-election and sending a third to a runoff.

The private option calls for the state to dedicate federal dollars toward the purchase of private health insurance for people who couldn't otherwise afford policies. Several legislators said it offered the state a way to have some influence over what is often derisively called "Obamacare."

Republicans will control the Senate in 2015, while Democrats still have a chance to reclaim the House. Until the 2012 election, the GOP hadn't controlled the Arkansas Legislature since Reconstruction.

The private option Medicaid plan passed with one vote to spare in the House in 2014 and with no votes to spare in the Senate. There were 22 Republican primaries on the ballot Tuesday, and four Democratic races.

Results in the November general election will likely determine the expansion's fate as the Legislature must reauthorize its funding in 2015.

KEY CONTESTS FOR SENATE REPUBLICANS

Rep. John Burris of Harrison, who was a chief architect of the "private option," sought a state Senate seat in northern Arkansas against Scott Flippo, who has called the Medicaid expansion one of the top issues in the race. Burris and Flippo will meet in a June 10 runoff for the Senate seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Johnny Key.

Also in the Senate, private option supporter Sen. Bruce Holland was defeated by Republican state Rep. Terry Rice, who opposed the compromise expansion. Hot Springs Sen. Bill Sample, also a private option backer, defeated challenger Jerry Neal, while Sen. Missy Irvin of Mountain View topped challenger Phil Grace. Irvin voted for the private option in 2013 and against it in 2014.

KEY CONTESTS FOR HOUSE REPUBLICANS

Sue Scott of Rogers, who voted in favor of the private option plan, faced a challenge within her party, as did Randy Alexander of Fayetteville, Jim Dotson of Bentonville and John Hutchison of Harrisburg — all of whom voted against the private option. Hutchison lost to challenger Dwight Tosh in Tuesday's primary, and Alexander was defeated by challenger Lance Eads. Scott and Dotson both defeated their challengers.

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