Private-option funding fails in House for 3rd time

Posted: February 20, 2014 at 3:13 p.m.
Updated: February 20, 2014 at 3:58 p.m.

The Arkansas House convenes Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, to again take up the issue of the private-option Medicaid expansion.

The House has again fallen short of passing a funding bill to continue Arkansas's private option Medicaid expansion despite the Senate passing an identical bill earlier in the day.

The House voted 72-25 in favor of House Bill 1150, marking the third time in as many days it has failed to reach the required 75-vote supermajority threshold for passage.

The Senate voted in favor of an identical bill about 11:30 a.m. Thursday, reaching its supermajority with no votes to spare, 27-8.

House Speaker Davy Carter said the House would take up the House and Senate bills when the chamber reconvenes at 10 a.m. Friday. He said he thinks at least one will pass then, but said he is prepared to have more votes next week if necessary.

"This is not unexpected," Carter said. "My position hasn't changed in any form or fashion. So we'll vote tomorrow on the Senate bill and the House bill. I think we're continuing to make progress ... Nothing's changed. That is the bill and it will pass."

The result was expected in the Senate, which had been one apparent vote short of passage until Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, agreed to switch her vote. English announced her decision earlier this week after reaching a a deal to vote yes on the private option in exchange for the creation of a statewide workforce training initiative.

The vote considered less of a sure thing in the House, which on Tuesday and Wednesday voted on an identical funding bill but failed to reach the 75-vote threshold. Seventy representatives voted for it on Tuesday and only 68 on Wednesday.

After the second vote fell short, Carter and Gov. Mike Beebe acknowledged some representatives were believed to be waiting to vote yes on the bill until after the Senate passage.

The Senate's vote — its first on the bill — came after several senators addressed the body, three speaking against the bill and one urging its passage.

Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, said he wanted to clear up misconceptions about the bill — including that it won't cost the state any money.

"It is a fact that even if Congress keeps their promises, which sometimes they have problems doing, but even if they do that for the next 8 or 10 years, this state will be on the hook for somewhere between $200 and $300 million every year from now on out of general revenue," he said. "And I've had no one to tell me where that money is going to come from."

Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, called the private option Medicaid expansion "one of the worst socioeconomic policies in the history of our state that we will live to regret."

"As much as I love you guys, you will learn what my family already knows," he said as he closed his remarks. "I am very good at saying 'I told you so.'"

But Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, asked the body to think about what they would do if a member of their family got sick and didn't have health insurance.

"How do you think you're going to defend against it," she said. "Wouldn't it make sense for you to protect your child, your grandchild, by giving that poor person health care?"

The private option narrowly passed last year but since lost at least two votes in the Senate. State Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, has said she will vote against it this year after supporting it in 2013. And Sen. John Cooper, R-Jonesboro, who was elected in a special election, opposes the private option. His predecessor, Sen. Paul Bookout, supported it.

Carter vowed at the start of the fiscal session last week that the private option would pass both the House and Senate, adding that failing to do so would create an about $90 million hole in the budget. After the failed vote Tuesday, he said the House would continue to vote — and would not engage in further negotiations — until it passed.

The private option plan allows the state to buy private insurance for Arkansans with incomes of up to 138 percent of the poverty level using federal Medicaid money.

The program initially is covered entirely by federal funds, but the state by 2020 would have to pay for 10 percent of it.

See Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full coverage.

Senate passes private option funding bill

The state Senate on Thursday passed a bill continuing Arkansas's private option Medicaid expansion. (By Gavin Lesnick)
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The voting screen in the Arkansas Senate shows how senators voted Thursday in passing the private option funding bill Thursday.