LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday he has received word that his proposed changes to the state’s Medicaid expansion program have received federal approval, with some modifications.
“I received a call last night from (U.S. Health and Human Services) Secretary (Sylvia) Burwell who indicated that she will be issuing a letter today that indicates the waiver for Arkansas Works will be granted and that she’s directed their legal team to prepare the paperwork on that,” Hutchinson told reporters at the state Capitol.
Arkansas Works is the new name Hutchinson has proposed for the program now known as the private option, which subsidizes private health insurance for about 300,000 low-income Arkansans. Arkansas is paying 5 percent of the cost of the mostly federally funded program this year; if the programs continues, Arkansas’ share of the cost will reach a maximum 10 percent in 2020.
Hutchinson said there was “one sticking point” concerning his proposal to provide incentives to businesses to provide employer-sponsored insurance.
“They allowed this and accepted that employer-sponsored insurance, but it was restricted to new additions, new employers that are for the first time offering insurance that we could provide the financial incentives,” he said. “Mine was broader than what this administration wanted to give. It’s more narrow, which impacts, really, the effectiveness.”
But Hutchinson said President Barack Obama’s administration approved his proposals to require referral of unemployed recipients to voluntary worker training, require some recipients to pay small co-payments and stop making coverage retroactive for 90 days.
“We got, really, all four elements. It was just one point that was more restricted than we wanted,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said he discussed Medicaid expansion with President-elect Donald Trump last week and told him that Arkansas would like to receive funding for the program in block-grant form, with greater flexibility.
“If you give us the federal dollars right now for the Medicaid program and give us the flexibility to administer it, then we will be able to keep the Medicaid expansion with more constraints and more cost sharing with more work requirements, and the impact of that will be that it will control the numbers better,” Hutchinson said.
“I think our budget is fine on this point, it is just a matter of, the numbers has to have some more control by the states. You’ve seen how the numbers have grown. There’s a lot of understandable reasons for that growing, but we can’t have an unlimited, unpredictable future in terms of the cost to the state,” he said.
The governor said Trump “is very firm on his conviction that the states need more flexibility.”