LITTLE ROCK — A special session likely will be needed to take up the issue of what should replace the Medicaid expansion program known as the private option, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday.

LITTLE ROCK — A special session likely will be needed to take up the issue of what should replace the Medicaid expansion program known as the private option, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday.


Hutchinson also said that continuing the private option in its present form after next year is "off the table."


Earlier this year, Hutchinson signed into law a bill containing his proposal for the private option to end after Dec. 31, 2016, and for a legislative task force to recommend an alternative model that could replace the program. The task force — which also will consider possible reforms for the entire Medicaid program — is required to make its recommendations in a report due by Dec. 31, 2015.


In a meeting with reporters in his office Thursday, Hutchinson said the Legislature will "have to come back for a special session, I presume, when they get that final report."


The governor said he has not made a final decision on whether to call a special session on health care, but he said the 2016 fiscal session may not be a good fit.


During a fiscal session, the Legislature can consider a non-budget bill only if two-thirds of the members of the House and Senate vote to do so. The Legislature will not meet again for a regular session until January 2017.


"The fiscal issues are important. We want to devote attention to those," Hutchinson said. "And I think the public expects a special session that would be devoted to this issue, because it’s a very large challenge for us. We’ve got to build a consensus for it. So I would suspect that that would be more suitable to a special session versus the fiscal session."


The private option — Arkansas’ alternative to the Affordable Care Act’s proposal to help states expand their Medicaid rolls — uses federal Medicaid money to subsidize private health insurance for people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. More than 205,000 Arkansans have enrolled in the program, according to the state Department of Human Services.


The federal government is paying all of the program’s costs through 2016, but in 2017, the state would begin paying a share of the cost that would increase gradually to 10 percent.


Hutchinson was asked whether he would support something that is not called the private option but is essentially the same.


"That’s off the table," he said. "That’s probably the only thing that’s off the table. Just in terms of integrity and honesty, I don’t think anybody who expects this is the end of the private option wants it to be tweaked in minor ways and relabeled. That’s not going to fly with the Arkansas voters, and that’s not my expectation.


"I think this is going to be a total refiguring of it in an Arkansas way, with compassion but with fiscal prudence, and then also one that’s innovative," he said. "The private option itself was an innovative solution, and I have a lot of confidence that we’re going to, with the legislative task force, come up with a good solution for the future."