LITTLE ROCK — The House on Wednesday approved a bill to freeze enrollment in Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion program.
In a 55-32 vote, the House approved House Bill 1465 by Rep. Josh Miller, R-Heber Springs. The bill goes to the Senate.
The measure would require the state Department of Human Services to seek a federal waiver or waivers allowing it to stop enrolling people in the program known as Arkansas Works, formerly the private option, on July 1.
The program, Arkansas’ alternative to the expansion of Medicaid rolls envisioned in the federal Affordable Care Act, provides government-subsidized private health insurance, mostly funded by the federal government, to Arkansans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
After the House adjourned Wednesday, Miller said the growth in the program must be checked.
“We were originally given a number of about 215,000 that would be eligible,” he said. “That number quickly grew to 250,000 or so, and then after that it’s just continued to grow. We’ve got over 333,000 signed up on it now.”
Miller said Congress is on the verge of replacing the Affordable Care Act with a new health-care law, “and it just seems prudent that we need to put the brakes on this program. … We’re currently paying 5 percent of that cost, the state is. If they raise that to 20 percent, which is a high probability, there’s no way we can sustain that.”
J.R. Davis, spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, said Wednesday the governor favors controlling the program’s numbers with reforms that he expects President Donald Trump’s administration to approve.
“The governor is looking for true reform, not an artificial cap,” Davis said. “Under an artifical cap, it’s not fixing the problem, and it can deny someone who really needs the coverage the coverage. We have a plan the governor’s going to roll out in the coming days to make Arkansas Works an even better program, a more sustainable program, with the conservative changes we wanted under the previous administration that we did not get.”
The bill has an emergency clause that would make it take effect immediately upon becoming law, but the measure did not receive the two-thirds vote needed for it to pass with the emergency clause. Miller said he believed the Senate could pass the bill with the emergency clause and send it back to the House for a new vote.
If the bill were to become law without an emergency clause, its effective date would be 90 days after formal adjournment of the session, which could cause it to take effect later than July 1.