LITTLE ROCK — Legislative leaders are close to moving forward with legislation to expand health care coverage in Arkansas, House Speaker Davy Carter said Tuesday.
Carter said he hopes to see draft measures within days.
"I think we’re getting close to being able to put something together that’s good for Arkansas," he said.
Carter, R-Cabot, spoke to reporters a day after the state Department of Human Services announced that the so-called "private option" for expansion, in which Arkansans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level would receive federal money to buy private insurance, is expected to cost 13 percent or 14 percent more, at most, than adding the same group to the state Medicaid rolls would cost.
"I think it helps the chances" of passage, Carter said of DHS’ announcement. "I think they were good numbers."
Carter said he hopes to see "something in writing before the end of the week." The deadline for filing bills has passed, but Carter said there are shell bills that could be amended to include legislative proposals on health care coverage expansion.
"Until it’s on paper, it’s really hard to sit down and have a debate about it and to further progress the discussion," he said.
Asked if he believed legislators had enough information to make a decision at this point, Carter said, "I hope so."
The federal Affordable Care Act proposes that states expand their Medicaid rolls to serve people who earn up to $15,856 a year for an individual and $32,499 for a family of four, but the Obama administration has said Arkansas can use federal Medicaid dollars to subsidize the purchase of private insurance through the state’s health insurance exchange as an alternative.
Under either option, the federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost for the first three years, after which Arkansas’ share of the cost would increase gradually to 10 percent.
Also Tuesday, the Senate Insurance and Commerce Committee heard a presentation on health insurance exchanges by Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.
Cannon, a staunch opponent of the Affordable Care Act, said Arkansas is better off not running its own exchange. Arkansas has already rejected the idea of a state-run exchange, opting instead for a state-federal partnership, but it has the option of changing course in future years.
If Arkansas were to run its exchange, state officials would "take the blame for harm caused by rules that state officials did not write and cannot change," he said.
In another development Tuesday, DHS spokeswoman Amy Webb said agency officials misspoke Monday when they told reporters that the average annual cost to insure a person under the private option would be $5,975, compared to $5,200 to provide that person with Medicaid coverage.
Actually, the average cost under the private option would be $438 per month, or $5,256 per year, and the average cost under Medicaid would be $366 per month, or $4,392 per year.
Although $5,256 is 20 percent more than $4,392, Webb said that because some members of the expansion group, such as the medically frail, will stay on Medicaid, the cost differential is still estimated to be 13 percent or 14 percent at most.