LITTLE ROCK — Proposed amendments to the state’s so-called private option for expanding health care coverage received House approval Thursday, clearing the way for the House to vote on whether to appropriate a second round of federal funding for the program.

LITTLE ROCK — Proposed amendments to the state’s so-called private option for expanding health care coverage received House approval Thursday, clearing the way for the House to vote on whether to appropriate a second round of federal funding for the program.

House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, told reporters the House would not meet on Friday or on Monday, which is Presidents Day, but would vote Tuesday on the private option, which uses federal Medicaid money to provide private insurance to low-income Arkansans and has already covered more than 85,000 people.

Carter said he expected the appropriation, which requires a three-fourths majority vote in both chambers, to pass in the House — even if it takes multiple votes to do so.

"We’ll vote on Tuesday, and then if necessary we’ll vote on Wednesday, and if necessary we’ll vote on Thursday, but we’re going to take this issue up. It does not need to sit around, and we are not going to wait on the Senate to do anything," he said.

The measure needs 75 votes in the 100-member house and 27 votes in the 35-member Senate. Carter said nine senators continued to oppose it, or just enough to block the appropriation, but even so there would be no more negotiations on modifying the program.

"We’ve negotiated with everybody that wanted to negotiate," he said. "We’re not negotiating it further. You’ve got nine people in the Senate that, I don’t know what they want. If the answer is they don’t want anything, then that’s not a good answer."

The appropriation is contained in the bill to fund the Department of Human Services’ Medical Services Division for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Carter said that if the private option fails, the session likely will end without a budget having been passed, necessitating a special session.

"If those nine senators want to live with that, that’s on them," he said.

The Joint Budget Committee voted 40-11 to endorse DHS’ Medical Services Division budget with several amendments, including one that would prohibit the state from promoting the private option or other parts of the federal health care law and would prohibit state agencies from using any appropriated money to fund the activities of the in-person assisters who have been helping people enroll in the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace.

Another amendment calls for DHS to request federal waivers allowing it to design a state plan for providing a non-emergency transportation benefit under the private option; to create a program allowing participants in the private option to enroll in health savings accounts; and to impose co-payments and deductibles for participants earning more than 50 percent of the federal poverty level, instead of the current 100 percent threshold.

A provision of that amendment says that if DHS does not secure the waivers by Feb. 1, 2015, the private option will end. The amendment also stipulates the state apply for the waivers by Sept. 15. The panel’s Special Language Subcommittee had recommended a Jan. 1, 2015 deadline, but Gov. Mike Beebe had asked for a later deadline — one that occurs after a new governor is in office and the next General Assembly is in session.

"I didn’t want to send a message that we were abdicating to a Washington bureaucrat the responsibility and the authority of the Arkansas General Assembly and the next governor," Beebe, who is term-limited, told reporters Thursday. "I wanted to make sure that the next General Assembly and the next governor were in control of this issue, and they will be with that Feb. 1 date, because if something unforeseen happened, the decision is still in the hands of Arkansas elected officials, not a Washington bureaucrat."

The House agreed Thursday in a voice vote to incorporate the amendments into the budgets of DHS, the Department of Health and the state Insurance Department.

The House also voted 85-8 to approve House Resolution 1009 by Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, which allows the House to vote during the fiscal session on whether to authorize the governor to forgo calling a special election to fill the lieutenant governor’s office, which was left vacant by the Feb. 1 resignation of Mark Darr. It was unclear when that vote might happen.

The House also approved in a voice vote House Concurrent Resolution 1001 by Rep. Andrea Lea, R-Russellville, which would set a date by which the committees on constitutional amendments must meet during regular sessions.

HR 1002 by Carter, which would extend the 30-day session by up to 15 additional days, cleared the House in an 83-8 vote. Carter later told reporters he still believed the session could be confined to three weeks but wanted to have the extension in place in case it was needed.

The House agreed in a voice vote to amend HB 1149, which contains miscellaneous appropriations, to include a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment for state employees.

The Senate’s only action Thursday was to expunge a voter earlier this week on Senate Resolution 9 by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock. The proposal to allow Arkansas school districts to arm non-classroom employees as volunteer security guards needed 24 votes to be considered during the fiscal session and the vote Tuesday was 19-2.


Voting "yes" in the Joint Budget Committee on House Bill 1150 and Senate Bill 111, the state Department of Human Services’ Medical Services Division budget, which contains the private option, were:

Sens. Larry Teague, D-Nashville; Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, David Burnett, D-Osceola, Eddie Cheatham, D-Crossett; Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock; Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe; Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock; Jake Files, R-Fort Smith; Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff; Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock; David Johnson, D-Little Rock; Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville; Uvalde Lindsey, D-Fayetteville; Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia; Bobby Pierce, D-Sheridan; Jason Rapert, R-Conway; Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs; Robert Thompson, D-Paragould; Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, and David Wyatt, D-Batesville. State Reps Duncan Baird, R-Lowell; Hank Wilkins, D-Pine Bluff; Mark Biviano, R-Searcy; John Burris, R-Harrison; Skip Carnine, R-Rogers; Davy Carter, R-Cabot; Robert Dale, R-Dover; Andy Davis, R-Little Rock; Fred Love, D-Little Rock; Stephanie Malone, R-Fort Smith; Mark McElroy, D-Tillar; James McLean, D-Batesville; Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna; Micah Neal, R-Springdale; Jim Nickels, D-Sherwood; Mark Perry, D-Jacksonville; Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado; John Vines, D-Hot Springs; Tommy Wren, D-Melbourne, and Marshall Wright, D-Forrest City.

Voting "no" were:

Sens. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers; Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale; Jim Hendren, R-Gravette; Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs; Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View; Bryan King, R-Green Forest; and Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch; and state Reps. Jonathan Barnett, R-Siloam Springs[ Kim Hammer, R-Benton; Lane Jean, R-Magnolia; and Stephen Meeks, R-Greenbrier.