LITTLE ROCK — Members of the state House carved nearly two hours out of a lengthy calendar Monday to discuss the private option for expanding health care coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act but did not take a vote.
Members met as a committee of the whole. Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison, author of a House bill containing enabling legislation for the private option, told members that in addition to enabling people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level to use federal Medicaid dollars to buy private insurance, his bill would move about 259,000 people now on Medicaid, or about 35 percent of Medicaid recipients, to private insurance.
The federal government would pay the full cost of the expansion for the first three years, after which the state’s share of the cost would increase gradually to 10 percent. Burris estimated that the 10 percent cost would be about $160 million a year, but he said that over the first 10 years the state is expected to see a net savings of $670 million.
Burris said that moving people currently on Medicaid to private insurance would open the door for reforms that would not be possible if the state opted to expand the Medicaid rolls. He also said he expected private insurance to result in a higher level of care and healthier outcomes for consumers.
"It’s better for the consumer, it’s better for the state, it’s better for the providers, better for everybody," he said.
Burris said that rejecting both Medicaid expansion and the public option would mean that Arkansas would suffer the costs of the Affordable Care Act without receiving any of the benefits.
"If we leave and do nothing, $1.18 billion a year is coming out of the state of Arkansas because of Medicare cuts and tax increases," he said. "That’s happening. We can’t do anything about that."
House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, has said he is working on an alternative proposal under which Arkansans now on Medicaid would be moved to private health savings accounts. Westerman said Monday he was still considering filing his proposal but was also considering proposing it for lawmakers to study between legislative sessions.
Westerman said he had not decided how he would vote on Burris’ bill if it reaches the House floor. He said he continues to favor postponing a decision on appropriating funding for the expansion to a special session or the 2014 fiscal session, "to give some of this time to play out."
Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, and the Republican leaders of both chambers have rejected Westerman’s call for a delay.
House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, said Monday he believes there is enough support in the House to pass both the enabling legislation, which requires a simple majority, and a separate appropriation bill, which requires a three-fourths majority, or 75 out of the 100 House members.
"I think they liked what they heard today," he said.