LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The top Republican in the Arkansas House on Monday said lawmakers should delay taking final action on a proposal to expand health insurance to low-income residents so state officials can answer questions about how the program would operate.
Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe quickly dismissed the idea, repeating his call for lawmakers to vote on the proposal before the end of this year's legislative session.
House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman told reporters he believes the "best route forward" on the health insurance proposal is to take up a bill laying out the program but delay a vote on the budget bill for it until a special session later this year. The legislation setting up the program would only require a majority vote in the House and Senate, but an appropriation bill needs three-fourths approval in both chambers.
"There's no conceivable way to implement and get all the approvals and the waivers that would be necessary for the private option" before the Legislature is scheduled to formally adjourn in May, Westerman said.
Beebe has said the federal government gave Arkansas permission to use federal dollars to buy private insurance for low-income workers newly eligible for Medicaid under the health care law. Under the proposal, low-income citizens — those who make up to 138 percent of the poverty line, which amounts to $15,415 per year — would receive private insurance purchased using federal Medicaid dollars. The insurance would be purchased through the exchange created under the federal health care law.
The only way a special session could occur is if Beebe called one, and he repeated his objection to doing that.
"Let's don't waste taxpayer dollars. Let's make a decision," he said.
Senate President Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, said he understands Westerman's desire for more time, but said he would prefer if lawmakers take up the health care expansion during the regular session.
"I don't want to count on something that is completely within somebody else's control," Lamoureux said.