Today's Paper Latest Primary runoff results Voter guide Sports Core Values Newsletters Weather Obits Puzzles Archive Story ideas iPad

Private-option-to-end bill advances

Senate backs requirement to notify enrollees of halt in 2016 by Michael R. Wickline | March 24, 2015 at 3:19 a.m. | Updated March 23, 2015 at 11:55 p.m.

Arkansans who enroll or renew their enrollment in the state's private-option program would be notified by the state Department of Human Services that the program and its health insurance coverage will end on Dec. 31, 2016, under legislation that cleared the Arkansas Senate on Monday.

The state uses federal Medicaid dollars to purchase private health insurance for some low-income Arkansans under the state's version of Medicaid expansion. The money is available under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, which some call Obamacare.

The program extends insurance coverage to adults who have incomes of up to 138 percent of the poverty level -- $16,105 for an individual, for instance, or $32,913 for a family of four. More than 190,000 Arkansans have enrolled in private health insurance through the private option, according to the state Department of Human Services.

The state will have to start paying 5 percent of the cost of the program in 2017, and its share will eventually increase to 10 percent in 2020, when Gov. Asa Hutchinson says the state's cost would be more than $200 million

In a 21-7 vote, the Arkansas Senate sent House Bill 1363 by Rep. Donnie Copeland, R-North Little Rock, back to the House. The Senate-approved version includes an amendment adding a co-sponsor to the bill; the House will need to approve the change before it goes to the governor.

The Department of Human Services would be required under the bill to notify all people enrolled in the program at the date of their renewal or reassessment for enrollment that the program and its health insurance coverage will end on Dec. 31, 2016.

The department also would be required to notify a person enrolled in the program on or after the effective date of the bill that the program and its health insurance coverage will end on Dec. 31, 2016. The bill would become effective 90 days after the Legislature adjourns if it's enacted into law.

State Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, R-Pocahontas, who is the Senate sponsor of HB1363, said that "there has been a lot of discussion about when it is going to end, and I think this just clarifies the ending."

While a legislative task force has been appointed to study the state's entire Medicaid program, including the private option, and recommend changes by the end of this year, "the Legislature can change the laws [and] they could come back with a new recommendation and we might look at that and change it as well," Collins-Smith said after the Senate's vote on the bill.

"I want [the private option] to end because the people of Arkansas have overwhelmingly made statements, even by elections, voting differently than they have in the past to make sure this private option ends," Collins-Smith said.

But state Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, who was one of seven senators to vote against HB1363, said the legislative task force "is going to study the best way to cover this population.

"It may end as it is today, but we may replace it with something else, and so I think it is premature to say, 'You are not going to have anything,'" he said.

Hutchinson supports the bill because it would give private option recipients time to prepare for whatever comes next and "it's in line with what he's said before," Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis said Monday after the Senate's vote.

Two months ago, the Republican governor called on the Republican-controlled Legislature to continue funding the private option through 2016 and to appoint a task force to develop an "alternative health coverage model" for "vulnerable populations" now covered under the program.

The task force's recommendations should include "a compassionate and reasonable and cost effective response for care of those that are currently on the private option" as well as options to "modernize the entire Medicaid program currently serving the indigent, aged and disabled," Hutchinson said then.

The Legislature subsequently heeded the governor's recommendations by authorizing the use of federal funds for the private option in fiscal 2016 through June 30, 2016, and creating a task force including 16 lawmakers to study changes in the state's Medicaid program, including the private option. During its fiscal session, the 2016 Legislature will consider authorizing funding for the private option through Dec. 31, 2016.

Metro on 03/24/2015

Print Headline: Private-option-to-end bill advances


Sponsor Content