The Delta Caucus has gone on record in support of Arkansas's proposed innovative approach to Medicaid expansion endorsed by Governor Mike Beebe and many Democratic and Republican legislators. Caucus Director Lee Powell made the announcement in a press release Tuesday.
Referred to as “the private option”, the state's plan would provide government-funded private health insurance to 250,000 low-income Arkansans through the Medicaid program.
“Earlier concerns that some of the poorest rural Delta counties might be left out of the state's health insurance exchange have been laid to rest,” stated Powell. “A great majority of the Delta Caucus partners support the leadership of Gov. Beebe and the bipartisan group of legislators.”
“It's highly important for our people in Phillips County and the Delta in general to pass Medicaid expansion,” said local businessman Kevin Smith. “I salute the legislature and Gov. Beebe for being able to come together in one of the smartest approaches in the country.”
Smith is a former state senator and aide to former U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers and then Governor Bill Clinton.
“We support this because it is good for Arkansas as a whole, it's good for business, and it is good for all the counties of our state including the rural ones,” commented Rep. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna. “There's no issue of the plan not covering rural counties and all of them will have access.”
“It should be a no-brainer to expand Medicaid in Arkansas with all of the poor people we have,” said Forrest City Mayor Larry Bryant.
According to Powell other states such as Missouri are looking at the Arkansas plan with interest.
Powell also reported that in late February, U.S. Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius gave a verbal OK for the federal government to pay premiums for private insurance companies to provide coverage to about 250,000 of Arkansas's poorest residents. A recent memorandum from the HHS, said Powell, confirmed that the state has commenced discussions regarding possible premium assistance from the feds.
Cal Kellogg, senior vice president and chief strategy officer for Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield stressed that Arkansas's poorest counties will not be left without coverage. Under the plan, Medicaid would pay full premiums for the expansion group. The federal government would heavily subsidize people earning slightly more than the group. Those payments would make poor areas looked upon favorably to carriers that otherwise might have avoided them due to concerns of having unpaid premiums and bills.
The Arkansas Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas also supports the Arkansas Medicaid expansion plan saying competition in the health insurance market more Arkansans would get health care coverage and eventually costs would be driven down.
Initially, the federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs for insurance coverage for the state's poorest residents. Eventually, the state will pay 10 percent of the bill. State legislators will determine whether or not the Department of Human Services gets the authority to spend the accompanying federal dollars.
Page 2 of 2 - According to the DHS, the private option would lead to a $670 million benefit to the state over the next 10 years as the result of reduced payments for uncompensated care, lower costs for the existing Medicaid program and increased tax revenue.
If the state does not provide insurance for its low-income people, business owners who do not provide health insurance would have to pay between $26 and $38 million in penalties if their employees sought subsidized insurance.
Powell said the legislature is expected to put the issue to a vote within the next week to 10 days. Lawmakers also will consider $100 million in tax cuts and overhauling the current Medicaid program that serves about 780,000 people.
Gov. Beebe has stated that Arkansas cannot afford to cut taxes and raise spending unless it accepts hundreds of millions of additional federal dollars tied to Medicaid expansion.