LITTLE ROCK — The House on Thursday approved and sent to the governor’s desk a bill that will fund Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion program for another year.
House members voted 77-13 to approve Senate Bill 196 by the Joint Budget Committee, a bill to appropriate $8.3 billion in federal and state Medicaid money for traditional Medicaid and the Medicaid expansion program.
A day earlier, the bill failed in the House in a 73-17 vote, falling short of the 75 votes needed for passage. No one spoke against the bill on either day.
The bill passed 27-1 in the Senate on Tuesday after failing in that chamber in two votes Monday. In the Senate, Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, spoke against the measure, saying the Medicaid expansion program is unsustainable.
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 favors continuing the program and 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 an effort to revamp the law failed to gain support in the U.S. House last week.
Arkansas is paying 5 percent of the program’s cost in the current calendar year. The state’s share is scheduled to increase gradually to a maximum of 10 percent in 2020.
Fights over continuing the program have dominated Arkansas’ legislative sessions since the program was created in 2013, but the issue was barely debated in this year’s session. Hutchinson and legislative leaders have said they believe most lawmakers are willing to wait and see what happens with federal health-care policy under the new presidential administration.
Hutchinson said in a statement Thursday, “I did not anticipate any problem with the appropriation for Arkansas Works, and I am delighted with its approval by the General Assembly.”