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Ark. legislative leaders back insurance expansion

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 1, 2013 at 6:45 pm •  Published: April 1, 2013

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Republican leaders of the Arkansas House and Senate on Monday endorsed a proposal to purchase private insurance for thousands of low-income workers using federal funds, an idea lawmakers are considering as an alternative to expanding Medicaid's enrollment under the federal health care law.

House Speaker Davy Carter announced he was backing the so-called private option that Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe has urged the Republican-controlled Legislature to support. Senate President Michael Lamoureux later said he also supports the proposal.

"I think the members here have taken what arguably was a terrible hand of cards that has been dealt to us by the federal government, and they've taken the hand and turned it into what I think is something good for Arkansas, good for our citizens," Carter, R-Cabot, told reporters during his daily news conference.

Beebe in February announced that the federal government had given the state permission to adopt the private insurance approach rather than expanding Medicaid's enrollment. Under the private option 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.

Lamoureux echoed Carter's comments backing the private option.

"From the overall state perspective, it's a good compromise to try and get us out of here," said Lamoureux, R-Russellville.

The backing of the legislative leaders is the latest sign that the insurance expansion is gaining favor among Republicans, who won control of the Legislature last year partly based on opposition to the federal health care law. The state Chamber of Commerce last week said it was endorsing the private option approach as well.

The proposal will ultimately require a three-fourths vote from the House and Senate.

The insurance proposal has been tied to discussion about tax cuts as lawmakers try to wrap up this year's session by a self-imposed April 19 deadline. Beebe has said the savings from the expansion could pay for some of the tax cuts Republican lawmakers are pushing for this year.

Carter and Lamoureux also said they were opposed to a suggestion by the top Republican in the House that the Legislature delay final approval of the insurance proposal until next year. Rep. Bruce Westerman, the House majority leader, suggested lawmakers take up the enabling legislation for expanding health coverage, but push back its effective date from Jan. 1, 2014, to July 1 of that year. Westerman says that would allow lawmakers to vote on the budget bill needed for the "private option" insurance model during next year's legislative session.

"This would give us more time to get the plan established, to prove it, to vet it in the public eye and to make sure that it's the right thing for Arkansas going forward," said Westerman, R-Hot Springs.

Beebe also said he was opposed to that approach, saying it would mean the state would miss out on some of the federal funding for the insurance coverage.


Associated Press writer Michael Stratford contributed to this report.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at


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