Arkansas House leaders plan to hold a special meeting on Monday to discuss a Senate-approved proposal to use federal money to purchase health insurance for low-income residents, and the Republican House Speaker said he thinks the plan has enough support to pass.
Speaker Davy Carter said Saturday that he expected the House to approve the health care expansion proposal, although Republican Majority Leader Bruce Westerman says he plans to present a competing measure.
"From my discussion with the membership here, there is adequate support to pass a bill and an appropriation on the bill that's out there now," Carter said. He added that if Westerman has "some hypothetical bill that may or may not be filed in the future, that is zero consideration. We're focused on what's in front of us."
The Senate on Friday approved — on a 24-9 vote — the "private option" proposal that GOP lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe have negotiated as a compromise over the Medicaid expansion called for under the federal health care law. Under the bill, Arkansas would use federal Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance for 250,000 residents who make up to 138 percent of the poverty line, which amounts to $15,415 per year.
Senate President Michael Lamoureux said he believed questions still remained in the House over the private option proposal approved by the Senate.
"I don't think there's a foregone conclusion it'll pass," Lamoureux, R-Russellville, told reporters. "I think there's a lot of work to be done down there to get to that point."
Westerman, the House majority leader, said he was unsatisfied with the proposal and felt he had an obligation to provide the Republican caucus an alternative. He said he planned to file a competing measure next week.
"I just want to get an idea out there," he said. "I think this is another idea that needs to be considered."
Westerman's said his plan will call for the federal Medicaid funds to subsidize private insurance plans that offer fewer services and will have higher deductibles and co-payments than currently proposed. The savings generated from those changes would then be directed into private health savings accounts for all private option participants.
Rep. John Burris, the chairman of the House Public Health, said he didn't believe Westerman was going in a different direction than other Republican lawmakers working on the bill. He said the special meeting planned for Monday was intended to address questions House members have about the private option.
"I think the idea was that with the foundation out there, those are the bills that were filed, but with the understanding that there would be changes and amendments. I think that's the process we're going through right now," said Burris, R-Harrison.
The bill's Senate sponsor, Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, said he assumed Westerman's concerns were being addressed in amendments he and Burris plan to make to the bill.
"Each member has their individual right to pursue whatever bill or strategy they'd like to," he said. "I don't see it as a threat to what we're doing."
Carter, the House speaker, said he expected the proposal would be discussed by a special "committee of the whole" on Monday and would receive final approval in the House by the end of the week.