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Ark. Medicaid faces 'significant' cuts in services

Associated Press Modified: November 14, 2012 at 12:22 am •  Published: November 13, 2012
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The latest budget figures came out a week after Republicans won control of the Arkansas Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. GOP leaders have said they want to address the shortfall before taking up a proposal to expand Medicaid under the federal health care law.

Republican Rep. John Burris of Harrison called the figure "staggering," noting that lawmakers are expected to spend most of next year's session focusing on Medicaid.

"This is the elephant in the room we've all been waiting for," Burris said.

Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, complained that the proposed cuts didn't include policy changes GOP lawmakers have supported such as co-pays for some Arkansans on Medicaid. Selig said Beebe has recently asked the federal government how much flexibility the state would have for such changes.

"I wish when we saw this coming, because there's no way we didn't, and the money ran out and we knew it was going to run out, we had looked at those policy changes that individuals in this room had requested and been asking for since I've been here," Dismang said.

Beebe, a Democrat, supports expanding Medicaid's eligibility, which would add about 250,000 people to its rolls in the state, but has noted that its approval will require the support of 3/4th of the House and Senate. Under the federal law, the federal government agreed to pay the full tab for the Medicaid expansion when it begins in 2014. After three years, states must pay a gradually increasing share that tops out at 10 percent of the cost.

The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in June upholding the federal overhaul gave states the right to opt out of the expansion. DHS estimated the state would save $44 million next year if it expanded Medicaid, though that figure is not factored into its proposed budget.

GOP leaders have generally opposed the expansion, but Selig suggested that the savings from it could help the state avoid at least the nursing home cuts.

"We have an option for avoiding the worst of these cuts, were we to choose expansion," Selig said. "You'd still have some reductions, but not the worst of them."

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Andrew DeMillo can be reached at www.twitter.com/ademillo