LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday he is considering calling a special session on the future of Arkansas’ Medicaid program about 10 days before the scheduled April 13 start of the fiscal session.

LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday he is considering calling a special session on the future of Arkansas’ Medicaid program about 10 days before the scheduled April 13 start of the fiscal session.


The governor said previously he planned to call a special session on Medicaid sometime before the fiscal session, but his first mention of an approximate start date came in comments to reporters Wednesday after he appeared before a legislative task force to discuss his recent meeting with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell.


Hutchinson said he expects to have a legislative package to present to lawmakers in mid-March.


The meeting with Burwell concerned the governor’s plan for making changes to the state’s version of Medicaid expansion, which is now known as the private option but which the governor wants to rename Arkansas Works.


Hutchinson read to the Health Reform Legislative Task Force from a letter he received from Burwell after their meeting in which she said many of his ideas were "quite innovative."


"In some cases, they also push the bounds of what is allowable under federal Medicaid law and raise concerns about potential impacts on beneficiaries," Burwell wrote, though she also said she was committed to working with Hutchinson to find "acceptable approaches to reforms in each of your focus areas."


The private option uses federal Medicaid money to subsidize private health insurance for Arkansans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. As he outlined it Wednesday, Hutchinson’s vision for Arkansas Works calls for:


—Requiring referrals to work or work training for able-bodied, unemployed recipients.


—Requiring recipients earning more than 100 percent of the federal poverty level to pay premiums of $19 per month and co-pays. Those who fail to pay their premiums would incur a debt to the state.


—Requiring recipients to enroll in employer-based insurance, where available, and providing premium assistance for that coverage.


—Making coverage effective upon enrollment. Currently, coverage is retroactively effective starting 90 days before enrollment.


—Giving the state the option to end the expansion program with 30 days’ notice.


Hutchinson said Burwell was resistant to attaching conditions to coverage under the program and that they had a fundamental difference opinion about the purpose of Medicaid expansion.


"I see it as a temporary assistance to an end goal of employer-based insurance, of work, of training," he said. "This administration sees it differently. Rather than temporary assistance to an end goal, this administration sees the Medicaid expansion as a permanent program."


But Hutchinson also said Burwell has committed to working with the U.S. Department of Labor to identify possible work incentives for the Medicaid expansion population.


The governor told the panel that rejecting Medicaid expansion would create a $100,000-plus deficit in the state budget.


"We would have to look at ending the highway program unless you raise taxes," he said. "We would have to cut back on our health-care services. We would have to cut back on public safety. We would have to cut back in terms of education. It would hit us across the board."


Approving the program during the special session would require a simple majority vote, but appropriating federal funding for it would require a three-fourths majority vote in each chamber during the fiscal session.


Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, said Wednesday he does not believe a three-fourths majority vote is possible in the Senate. He said he intends to vote no, in part because the governor’s proposed work-referral requirement would not have "any teeth."


David Ray, Arkansas director for the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, said in a statement Wednesday, "Any approach to reforming Medicaid that does not include work requirements traps people in dependency. Implementing a new entitlement program for able-bodied adults is not conservative and does not encourage personal responsibility."


Senate Minority Leader Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, said he believes legislators ultimately will support Arkansas Works because of the impact that ending Medicaid expansion would have on the budget.


"I’ve urged the governor to put a second budget out and show where the cuts are going to be and make the legislators that are going to oppose this take responsibility for it," he said.