GOP-Led Arkansas Keeps Medicaid Expansion -- for Now

February 9, 2015

Arkansas' first-in-the-nation program using federal funds to buy private health insurance for the poor will survive another year after the Legislature reauthorized the program Thursday, despite an influx of new Republican lawmakers elected on a vow to kill the hybrid Medicaid expansion.

The Arkansas House voted 82-16 to reauthorize funding through June 2016 for the "private option" plan, which was crafted two years ago as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law. Arkansas was the first state to win federal approval for such an approach, touted as a compromise for Republican-leaning states.

The reauthorization now heads to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who had called on lawmakers to continue the program while a proposed task force looks at alternatives for covering the more than 213,000 people currently in the program. The House approved a separate proposal setting up the task force, sending the bill to the Senate for a final vote.

"I think this ends the debate and moves us forward into a new conversation about how do we take care of Arkansas and make a healthier Arkansas," House Public Health Committee Chairman Kelley Linck, R-Flippin, told House members before the vote.

The private option had sharply divided Republicans, who control the Arkansas Legislature and have made major gains primarily by running against President Barack Obama's health care law. The future of the program appeared in jeopardy after the election of several new lawmakers whose campaigns focused almost exclusively on ending the private option.

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