As Arkansas lawmakers threaten to undo Private Option

Arkansas lawmakers are debating whether to defend the Private Option just as other states are looking at copying it. About half of the states have used federal funding in the Affordable Care Act to cover the working poor. Arkansas had been the only state to get those people private insurance, rather than expanding traditional Medicaid. Lawmakers who object to Obamacare are now threatening to block funding for that Private Option.

In the meantime, noted Judy Solomon, vice-president for health policy, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, states such as New Hampshire, Tennessee and Indiana are considering their own versions of what Arkansas did.

"Healthy Pennsylvania, The Virginia Marketplace Plan, the Iowa Wellness plan each state starts where Arkansas is, and then they put a twist on Arkansas," Solomon said.

In many of the states considering copying Arkansas' Private Option, expanding Medicaid is politically unpopular, she explained. Others already use private insurance to cover that population. But she said lawmakers in those states all see the Arkansas model as a good, workable way to get health care to low-income people.

"Many of them will really take Arkansas and then adapt it to the conditions, the delivery system, the politics of the state," she added.

Governor Mike Beebe said ending the Private Option now would blow a hole in the state's budget of more than $80 million. But lawmakers critical of the Private Option said they are concerned that taxpayers could be left holding the bag if the federal government does not follow through on its funding promises.

Governors of the red states that have expanded coverage see the federal health-care dollars as a big help for their budgets, Solomon pointed out.
"They were very pragmatic about their budgets, not letting this get caught up in the antipathy that many feel toward the Affordable Care Act," she said.
According to state figures, as of now about 100,000 folks are enrolling in the Private Option, with that number expected to rise.
Dan Heyman

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