LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday he was encouraged by a meeting Monday in Washington, D.C., with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell on possible changes to Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion program.

LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday he was encouraged by a meeting Monday in Washington, D.C., with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell on possible changes to Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion program.


"We had very frank conversations about what we needed to have in Arkansas and what we wanted to incentivize work," Hutchinson told reporters after giving a speech at the Arkansas Economic Developers’ winter conference in Little Rock.


"There’s obviously a lot of follow-up from that," he said. "I think the encouraging things is, a couple of good ideas were generated from that that I want to be able to report to the Legislature on Feb. 17."


Hutchinson is scheduled to speak on that date to the Health Reform Legislative Task Force regarding his plan for the future of the program now known as the private option, which uses federal Medicaid money to subsidize private health insurance for low-income Arkansans.


The governor has proposed renaming the program Arkansas Works and adding elements that he says would encourage work and personal responsibility. The four main elements are referring able-bodied, unemployed beneficiaries to work or work training; requiring people who earn 100 to 135 percent of the federal poverty level to pay small premiums; enhancing program integrity; and encouraging employer-based insurance.


Hutchinson said Thursday that "none of those have been rejected" by the federal government, although details still have to be hammered out.


"We understand their limitations, and they understand what we want," he said. "They’re going to work to give us as much as they can within their own constraints. I’m going to continue to push."


At one time Hutchinson favored including a provision for locking out people from coverage if they fail to pay required premiums, but the Obama administration has been resistant to that idea.


"The challenge is, the punitive side is not something this administration is interested in," Hutchinson said Thursday. "So we have to look at incentives, and we don’t want to overload a program with incentives."


Hutchinson told reporters his meeting with Burwell "doesn’t get us everywhere we need to be, but it was a good start, and we’ll follow up."