There’s talk of delaying private option, state lawmaker says

State Rep. Ann Clemmer, R-Benton, said Wednesday that state lawmakers are discussing the possibility of delaying the use of federal Medicaid dollars to purchase private health insurance through health insurance exchanges for an estimated 250,000 uninsured Arkansans.


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But key Republican lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe said they haven’t been part of any such talks.

Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said 70,000 people have applied for health insurance coverage through the “private option,” and “we are on track to have that coverage to begin Jan. 1.

“We have no intention of changing that,” he said.

Senate Republican Whip Jonathan Dismang of Searcy said he’s not been involved in legislative discussions about delaying the implementation of the private option either.

“I don’t think we are at a point right now that that’s what we look to do,” he said.

As Clemmer formally announced her bid for the Republican nomination in the 2nd Congressional District at the state Capitol in Little Rock, she said Obamacare “has proven to be a disaster, and even just Monday we learned that the president’s promise to the American people about being about to keep your insurance was nothing more than a pipe dream that will never happen.”

Obamacare refers to the federal health-care law enacted by the Democratic-controlled Congress and President Barack Obama in 2010.

Asked about her vote for legislation earlier this year to authorize the use of federal Medicaid dollars to purchase private health insurance, she said she voted against the “private option” enabling legislation but decided not to derail the funding once her colleagues had backed the plan.

It took a three-fourths vote in both the House and Senate to authorize the spending. The measure passed in the House with two votes to spare.

“I think there is a difference when a majority votes for something. I don’t think you want to be of a minority that blocks the will of the majority. I mean that’s democracy,” Clemmer said. “I did not want to thwart what the majority of my colleagues deemed appropriate,” she said, and that’s why she voted with 76 other representatives to authorize the use of federal Medicaid dollars to purchase private health insurance through the health-care exchanges for about 250,000 poor Arkansans.

“But I think with everything that’s going on in D.C., my expectation is that there will be no immediate implementation of the private option because there is too many unknowns in D.C. I think the whole thing may be frozen,” she said.

She said state Sen. David Sanders, R-Little Rock, told her that there “may very well be delays on implementing [the funding of the private option].”

“I am getting wind that there may be delays,” Clemmer said. “I assumed that was what everyone knew.”

But Sanders said he has not discussed delaying the implementation of the private option.

“This is the first heard I have heard of this in terms of delaying it,” he told reporters.

House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee Chairman John Burris, R-Harrison, said he has not been part of legislative discussions about delaying the implementation of the private option either.

But “I am just assessing my position on a lot of issues daily. I am not blindly a yes and not blindly a no,” he said. “I don’t think anybody will make a final decision until February [in the fiscal legislative session].”

DeCample said the governor hasn’t had any meetings with lawmakers about delaying implementation of the private option.

Beebe “was surprised that anyone would be discussing a delay, since the tax cuts passed in this year’s regular session depend on the timely implementation of the private option,” DeCample said. “A delay would stop the flow of federal funding and endanger those tax cuts.”

Delaying the implementation of the private option would require a special session called by Beebe, or extraordinary action during the fiscal session to repeal the tax cuts that are dependent on the budget savings the private option provides, and that’s another reason Beebe is opposed to any delay in the private option’s implementation, DeCample said.

Earlier this year, the Republican-controlled Legislature and Beebe authorized tax cuts reducing state general revenue by about $10 million in fiscal 2014, $85 million in fiscal 2015 and $141 million in fiscal 2016.

Front Section, Pages 8 on 10/31/2013