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story.lead_photo.caption Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, speaks to the state House of Representatives Tuesday before a vote on the private option. ( Gavin Lesnick)

The state House of Representatives has passed funding to continue Arkansas's private option Medicaid expansion, approving the bill after four attempts last month came up short.

The House voted 76-24 Tuesday in favor of the Senate version, which passed on its first try last month. It will next go to Gov. Mike Beebe.

House passes private option on fifth try

The Arkansas House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a funding bill that continues private option Medicaid expansion. (By Gavin Lesnick)
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It was the fifth vote for the private option bill in the House. No previous attempt got more than 72 votes.

Beebe said he was "obviously" pleased by the vote, which he said should have been an easier process than when legislators narrowly approved the private option last year. This time around, they had approval of the program from the federal government and a host of tax cuts passed based on its savings, he said.

"If anything, it was even more compelling this time to do it than it was last time — not to mention the fact you'd be throwing 100,000 people off healthcare" if it didn't pass, he said.

House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, who expressed optimism the bill would ultimately pass even as it fell short in previous attempts, applauded legislators for the passage.

"I think the story is about a lot of things and one is it's about political courage," he said. "I truly do believe this is an example set for the rest of the country."

The vote came after several speeches on the floor for and against the bill.

Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, announced he would vote for the bill after previously opposing it.

"There are people who will be hurt if I don't vote for this," Hammer said. "And I don't want to see those innocent people hurt because of that."

Hammer — who joined Reps. Les "Skip" Carnine and Mary Lou Slinkard in switching to yes votes — said he had not "betrayed" opponents of the bill and would not shy from voting against it next year if the program is not successful.

"I haven't stepped away from it," he said. "I plan on coming back in January. And it better be successful. Otherwise it will be voted down."

Others reiterated their opposition to the bill, including Rep. Randy Alexander, R-Fayetteville, who said he would never vote for an Affordable Care Act bill because he thinks it cannot succeed.

"It's impossible, even if we could afford it," he said. "It will destroy quality healthcare in this country. And in the end, the poor will suffer most of all."

Carter expressed optimism the bill would ultimately pass, saying the House would vote each day until it did so.

But after the first four tries, the House stopped voting daily. Tuesday's vote was the first since Feb. 21.

The Senate voted 27-8 to pass the bill after Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, agreed to shift from opposing the measure to supporting it in exchange for a statewide program that aims to better workforce training.

Carter vowed at the start of the fiscal session last month that the private option would pass both the House and Senate, adding that failing to do so would create a nearly $90 million hole in the budget.

The private option plan allows the state to buy private insurance for Arkansans with incomes of up to 138 percent of the poverty level using federal Medicaid money.

The program initially is covered entirely by federal funds, but the state by 2020 would have to pay for 10 percent of it.

Read more in Wednesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Photo by Gavin Lesnick
Reps. Les "Skip" Carnine, Mary Lou Slinkard and Kim Hammer, all Republicans, changed their votes to yes Tuesday after previously opposing the private-option funding bill.

A caption previously accompanying a photo with this story contained an error about Rep. Randy Alexander's vote on the private option Tuesday. He voted against it.


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Archived Comments

  • Dontcallmenames
    March 4, 2014 at 3:17 p.m.

    Sorry scum who voted for this and curse liberals who just keep voting and voting until they get what they want. We need conservative leadership to set the agenda, not these handful of special-interest politicians!

  • StrayGoose70
    March 4, 2014 at 3:18 p.m.

    Traitors to Arkansas and the nation.

  • SouthernGrains
    March 4, 2014 at 3:19 p.m.

    They said they were going to keep voting until they finally passed the bill. If they were going to cave and vote it through to begin with, why did they waste everyone's time? Why didn't they just vote it through the first time?

    March 4, 2014 at 3:23 p.m.


    March 4, 2014 at 3:25 p.m.


  • Bengal571
    March 4, 2014 at 3:26 p.m.

    There are so few left that will stand on their principles anymore. I admire the 24 who remained firm and did not fall for the poisonous federal money. Our legislature has sold our souls to the devil. I think that bargaining for votes (i.e. Jane English) should be illegal. How is that not a bribe? We as voters need to remember these 76 votes and make our voices know at the polls. That is all that politicians care about anymore...their own political careers.

  • hogfan2012
    March 4, 2014 at 3:38 p.m.

    Sold their souls to the Devil! Heil Heil Davy Carter and Barrack Obama!!!!

  • Packman
    March 4, 2014 at 3:57 p.m.

    YEEEEHAAAAAA! Praise the Lord and pass that FREE money my way! Dude, all they wanted to talk about was how old people would die and kids would starve if this didn't pass but what they really meant was if it didn't pass it couldn't be used to buy the votes of people like me! YEEEEEHAAAAAA! You people just keep on working and I'll just keep on taking. YEEEEEEHAAAAAAA!

  • dodee2817
    March 4, 2014 at 4:01 p.m.

    Hooray!!! Our country needs some form of health care. This is a good start and it can be refined in the future.

  • djigoo
    March 4, 2014 at 4:06 p.m.

    If packtheticman is this upset, I KNOW it's a good thing! Good for Arkansas.