LITTLE ROCK — A Senate bill that would renew funding for the state’s Medicaid expansion program for another year fell two votes short of passing in the House on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 196 by the Joint Budget Committee, which would appropriate funding for both the Medicaid expansion program and traditional Medicaid, received 73 votes in support and 17 against. As an appropriation bill it requires a three-fourths vote, or at least 75 votes in the 100-member House.
The bill passed 27-1 in the Senate on Tuesday after failing twice in that chamber on Monday.
House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, told reporters Wednesday he was confident the House would pass the bill later in the week.
“It’s not anything that everybody is panicking over or anything,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, I think it’s just kind of a part of the process. We’ll probably take it up tomorrow or maybe Friday and see where the votes are at then, but for the most part, these things happen and I think we’ll be OK at the end of the day.”
Gillam noted that several members were not in the chamber when the vote was taken. Those members included some who have voted in support of the Medicaid expansion program in past sessions.
No one spoke against the bill on the House floor.
More than 300,000 low-income Arkansans are on government-subsidized private health insurance under the program, formerly known as the private option and now known as Arkansas Works. Gov. Asa Hutchinson is pursuing federal waivers to allow the state to impose restrictions he says will help control the program’s size and cost and help people move up the economic ladder.
The program was created as Arkansas’ alternative to the expansion of Medicaid rolls envisioned in the Affordable Care Act. President Donald Trump has pledged to repeal and replace the law, but a bill to redo the law was pulled Friday because of a lack of congressional support.
Gillam said Wednesday he has not heard of much resistance in the House to renewing Arkansas Works for another year.
“I just think based on everything I’ve been hearing, people are realizing the situation we’re in,” he said. “It’s an unusual dynamic. Some patience is warranted here. I think the members realize that, and I think once everybody is in the room and everything, I think we’ll have the votes and we’ll pass it.”
Gillam and Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, both said Wednesday they believe the session is on track to wrap up Monday.