LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Approving a plan to expand subsidized health insurance in Arkansas required an unlikely coalition of Democrats who supported the federal health law that made it possible and Republicans who ran on a promise to kill that same law. The new challenge is keeping that partnership together as the "private option" moves from a plan to reality.
From skirmishes over Planned Parenthood's involvement in the overhaul to questions about how community health centers will be reimbursed for their services, that coalition faces new potential tests as Arkansas puts the final touches on the "private option" plan approved this year as an alternative to expanding Medicaid.
The Obama administration's announcement last month that it would delay a part of the health care law — the penalty employers would pay for not providing insurance to workers — could complicate the plan when legislators vote next year on its budget.
The move delays one of the key arguments supporters of the private option made during the legislative session: that it would help businesses around the state that would otherwise face what's effectively a tax increase next year.
Supporters of the private option say the delay will have a minimal impact in Arkansas, where most employers who would have been affected by the mandate already offer coverage.
"No one will lose coverage - or lose the opportunity to become insured - in Arkansas because of this decision," Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, a group that supported the private option, said last week. "The decision simply allows business to be more deliberative in how they come into compliance with the Affordable Care Act, by allowing them more time."
Opponents of the private option say the delay vindicated their argument against the plan.
"That was why I suggested back during the session that we wait, that we understand this better and we not jump into any conclusions and do anything too fast," said House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs.
Westerman and other opponents of the private option are likely to point to this delay in February, when lawmakers return to the Capitol for next year's session focusing on fiscal matters. The agenda will include the budget bill for carrying out the private option, and potentially another hunt for votes to win the three-fourths approval from both chambers of the Legislature.
Supporters of the private option have already complained that the hunt for those votes may be hurt by the debate over whether Planned Parenthood should be one of the vendors providing guides to help consumers use the new marketplaces set up under the health care law.