LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said Wednesday that expanding Medicaid eligibility under the federal health care law would be the best way to avoid removing thousands of people from nursing home care, but he's open to other ideas.
A day after state officials detailed a series of proposed cuts under a plan to fill a $138 million shortfall in the state Medicaid program's budget, Beebe said he wanted to find a way to avoid the nursing home reductions. Department of Human Services officials have proposed eliminating the lowest level of nursing home care under the state program, a $35 million cut that would affect between 10,000 and 15,000 seniors.
The nursing home cuts are part of service reductions or freezes that DHS officials say would affect more than 75,000 people on Medicaid in the state. Even more would be affected by other cost-saving measures, including a rate freeze for providers.
"The one that bothers me the most and the one that we would work the hardest to try to keep from occurring is the level-three nursing home folks," Beebe told reporters.
Beebe, a Democrat, said his preference would be to use the savings from a Medicaid expansion under the health care law to prevent the reductions. DHS officials project that expanding Medicaid's eligibility — covered by the federal government for the first three years — would add 250,000 people to the state's rolls and save the state $44 million next year.
Beebe said he'll consider other ideas, however, noting that the expansion would require the support of at least three-fourths of the House and Senate — a margin even more difficult after Republicans won control of the Legislature in last week's election.
"There may not be any other realistic option, but we won't preclude or foreclose any thoughts by anybody," Beebe told reporters.
The nursing home cuts faced opposition Wednesday from skeptical Republican lawmakers, who wondered whether it was an effort to prod them to support the Medicaid expansion.
"I'm not even sure I consider a proposal like that a serious proposal," said Sen. Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, who will be the Senate's president next year.
Under the health care 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.