LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas legislative leaders said Thursday that they need more information about the flexibility the state will have if it expands Medicaid and better figures on how much of a shortfall the program faces.
Senate President Michael Lamoureux said lawmakers want answers on whether the state could opt for a smaller expansion than the federal health care law calls for, despite the Obama administration telling states that partial expansion wasn't possible.
"It's more important that we get things right than do it quick. We're literally talking about shaping health care policy for 10 or 20 years. It's not a McDonald's drive-thru," said Lamoureux, R-Russellville. "It's something we need to take our time and be real patient about."
The federal health care law calls for the federal government 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 in June upheld most of the health care law, but justices said the federal government could not take away states' existing federal Medicaid dollars if they refused to expand.
Lamoureux also said lawmakers want a firmer number on the shortfall Medicaid will face in next year's budget.
John Selig, the director of the Department of Human Services, said that by a "very rough estimate" savings from the Medicaid program in the current fiscal year could amount to about $50 million. Selig said the program grew at a slower rate than officials had expected and the department plans to release its revised estimate on how much of a shortfall the program will face next year.
Officials had originally projected a $138 million deficit they would have to cover next year by cutting some services, but Gov. Mike Beebe announced earlier this week that the state would avoid the "most painful cuts," including a proposal to remove thousands from nursing home care.
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