Burris' defeat seen as cloud for Medicaid

Senate leader: Result cuts into private-option support

A day after an architect of the state's private-option program lost a state Senate race to a private-option foe, the state Senate's leader said Wednesday that it's difficult to foresee the Senate reauthorizing funding for the state's private-option program in next year's session.

"My assumption is we don't have the votes to pass it, but that is a long time away," said Senate President Pro Tempore Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, referring to the regular session starting in January.

He said he doesn't know what the Legislature's fallback plan would be if it doesn't reauthorize the use of federal funds for the private-option program.

"I guess we have to start figuring that out," said Lamoureux.

Lamoureux's remarks came a day after state Rep. John Burris of Harrison, who is one of the three leading legislative drafters of the private option, lost a runoff election for the Republican nomination in Senate District 17.

Assisted living facility owner Scott Flippo of Mountain Home, a private-option opponent, defeated Burris 3,913 to 3,712, according to unofficial results from the secretary of state's website. Flippo is unopposed in the Nov. 4 general election and is in line to replace departing state Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, who has voted to fund the private option.

In the May 20 primary, state Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldon, who has voted against funding the program, ousted state Sen. Bruce Holland, R-Greenwood, a private-option supporter. Rice is unopposed in the Nov. 4 general election.

In this year's fiscal session, the Senate voted 27-8 to reauthorize funding for the program in fiscal 2015 with no votes to spare. The House voted 76-24 to reauthorize funding with one vote to spare.

Lamoureaux said both Flippo and Rice campaigned against the private option, and their elections leave the state Senate with two fewer votes for reauthorizing funding for the private option.

Burris helped design the private-option program along with state Sens. David Sanders, R-Little Rock, and Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy.

The expansion of the Medicaid program, approved by the Legislature last year, extends coverage to adults with incomes of up to 138 percent of the poverty level -- $16,105 for an individual or $32,913 for a family of four.

Nearly 150,000 people have obtained health-insurance coverage through the program since enrollment began Oct. 1, according to the state Department of Human Services.

The federal government will pay the full cost of covering the newly eligible enrollees until 2017, when states will begin paying 5 percent of the cost. The states' share will then rise each year until it reaches 10 percent in 2020.

Flippo and Rice have said they don't believe that the state will be able to afford the program.

Rice said he wants to get more information about the program's expenses and effect on hospitals before deciding its future next year, but "I think my thoughts are going to bear out over time and my concern is getting all the people on there and not having sustained funding, and having to kick them off."

Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who is barred from seeking re-election by the state's term-limits amendment, said Burris' loss in Tuesday's runoff election doesn't help the future of the private option.

Supporters of the program "have their work cut out for them, but I can't believe that the state would let 26 or 27 percent of the Legislature destroy something that is so critical to the budget, so critical to the hospitals and so critical to 150,000 people [who have enrolled in the program]," Beebe said.

Seventy-five votes are required in the 100-member House of Representatives and 27 votes in the 35-member Senate are required to reauthorize funding for the private option. It's been a struggle for supporters of the private option to secure the required votes to fund the program during the 2013 and 2014 sessions.

This year, the Legislature enacted a state budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 that factors in $85 million in state general-revenue reductions from tax cuts enacted during the 2013 General Assembly and up to $89 million in state general-revenue savings resulting from the infusion of $915 million in federal Affordable Care Act funds, according to state officials.

Burris said Wednesday that he doesn't consider his loss to be a referendum on the private option.

He said he doesn't see how any race decided by a 51 percent to 49 percent margin "can be called a referendum of any kind especially when there were so many issues thrown into the mix," including Common Core educational standards, term limits, taxes, abortion and two complaints filed against him with the Arkansas Ethics Commission.

Burris said "there are a lot of moving pieces" that will determine the future of the program.

"There are still elections to be held in November, [and] it depends on who wins the governor's race," he said.

But private-option foe state Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, said he considers Burris' loss to be a referendum on the private option.

Burris' loss makes it substantially harder to reauthorize funding for the program in the Senate next year, he said.

"A lot of it is going to depend on what governor we have, too," said King.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson of Rogers said in a written statement that he'll work as governor with the Legislature "to make necessary changes in the current delivery of health care services under Medicaid and to determine whether the private option is affordable and the best direction for Arkansas."

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross of Little Rock is "still a strong supporter of the private option," said Ross spokesman Brad Howard.

Flippo defeated Burris by 201 votes in Tuesday's runoff after winning Marion County by 238 votes, according to unofficial results on the secretary of state's website.

Burris won Boone County, which he calls home, 1,780 to 1,132. Flippo won Baxter County, where he resides, 2,062 to 1,451. Marion County, which is sandwiched between the other two counties, went with Flippo, 719 to 481, the secretary of state's office said.

Burris said he doesn't know why he lost Marion County in the runoff after he won it in the primary election.

Marion County Republican Party Chairman Elaine Ryder of Summit said she received reports about Flippo's campaign spending a lot of time knocking on doors in Marion County and she saw more Flippo signs than Burris signs in Marion County.

"It does help to have boots on the ground," she said.

Flippo's assisted living home is in Bull Shoals and that's in Marion County, noted Rod Soubers of Mountain Home, chairman of the Baxter County Republican Party.

Key said Baxter County voters and Boone County voters have fought to have a state senator from their county for decades; Baxter County residents have held the seat for about the past 40 years.

Metro on 06/12/2014

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