FORT SMITH —Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson expressed concerned about the state’s approach to the Affordable Care Act here Wednesday in a speech to health care professionals.

FORT SMITH —Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson expressed concerned about the state’s approach to the Affordable Care Act here Wednesday in a speech to health care professionals.


This year, the Legislature approved a plan to use federal Medicaid dollars to subsidize private health insurance coverage for thousands of Arkansas’ working poor rather than add the estimated 250,000 people who would qualify to the state Medicaid roll under the federal Affordable Care Act.


The federal Department of Health and Human Services has approved the so-called private option, which will be federally funded entirely for the first three years. After that, the state’s share will gradually rise to 10 percent.


"How is that going to impact other areas funded by Medicaid?" Hutchinson asked in an address to the Senior Care Alliance’s Aging Conference. "These cost issues have to be addressed down the road."


It was not the first time the plan that won bipartisan approval of state lawmakers has been criticized by Hutchinson, one of three GOP gubernatorial hopefuls along with businessman Curtis Coleman of Little Rock and state Rep. Debra Hobbs of Rogers.


Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, is term-limited and cannot run for re-election next year.


The only Democratic candidate for governor, former Congressman Mike Ross, has said he supports the private option, although he voted against the federal health care reform law known as Obamacare when he was in the U.S. House.


Hutchinson also said Wednesday that Social Security and Medicare are fiscally sound until 2033, but a debate for legislative change is needed now to ensure the programs are secure past then.


The former congressman, federal prosecutor and federal Homeland Security undersecretary was mostly well-received by the crowd of health care professionals.


"I think he has insight to the challenges were facing," said Mike Simmons of Gentiva Home Health. "Obamacare is going to cut Medicare service 3 percent to 5 percent a year for the next four years. It’s just a scary thing. It might be shifting, but they’re just robbing Peter to pay Paul."


Patsy Fox of HealthQuest Insurance Services said she felt Hutchinson was "right on," and that Arkansas was "fortunate to have him running for governor."


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John Lovett writes for the Times Record in Fort Smith