LITTLE ROCK — A group of Republican state legislators asked Gov. Mike Beebe on Wednesday to hold off on deciding whether to expand Medicaid.
In a letter, five GOP lawmakers asked the governor to focus first on Medicaid reforms and take a slow approach to deciding whether to expand the government health care program for the poor, the elderly and the disabled.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government cannot coerce states into expanding their Medicaid programs as part of the federal Affordable Care Act. Beebe has said he is inclined to go ahead with expanding the program to add about 250,000 people to the rolls.
In their letter, Republican lawmakers said, "Since there is no deadline for making a decision on Medicaid, we believe it is prudent to proceed in a deliberative manner to make sure that all decisions made on the issue are in the best interest of hardworking Arkansas taxpayers and the future of Arkansas."
The legislators said they were proposing "to slow the process, invite more stakeholders, and take a more methodical approach to Medicaid reform."
The letter was signed by Sens. Johnny Key of Mountain Home and Michael Lamoureux of Russellville and Reps. Mark Biviano of Searcy, Terry Rice of Waldron and Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs.
Lamoureux said Wednesday the legislators want to be sure that they are not excluded from the decision-making process. He said he has had a good one-on-one meeting with Department of Human Services Director John Selig, but "I have not seen that replicated, the quality of that meeting, at a group level."
Beebe spokeswoman Stacey Hall said Wednesday that Beebe’s office has received the letter and that the governor intends to make the decision in conjunction with legislators.
"The real decision will come during the legislative session" that starts in January, she said.
Asked if the governor’s office planned to hold group meetings with legislators, Hall said, "The letter did not request a meeting, but our door is always open to meet with legislators."
Beebe said on July 2 he planned to make a decision before January. He has since acknowledged that appropriating federal money to pay for the expansion will require a three-fourths vote of the Legislature.
State officials are working on a plan to begin reimbursing health care providers for episodes of care instead of paying for each episode of care. The plan is aimed at improving care and lessening the impact of a projected Medicaid deficit that DHS has said could be up to $400 million by the next fiscal year.
In their letter, the lawmakers asked Beebe to consider other reforms, including drug-testing for Medicaid recipients, enhanced verification of recipients’ eligibility, higher co-pays and new controls to reduce fraud, waste and abuse.
Lamoureux said the lawmakers also want more information about DHS’ projection that the influx of federal funds to pay for the Medicaid expansion — the state would pay none of the cost for the first three years and would eventually pay up to 10 percent — would save the state $372 million by 2021.
"I need somebody to show me how that saves $372 million," Lamoureux said.
Asked how long he wanted Beebe to put off making a decision on the expansion, Lamoureux said the governor should wait at least until after October.
I think the (Nov. 6) elections will play an important part of it," he said. "I don’t think we need to make a decision in July."
Republicans, now in the minority in the Legislature, have made it a goal to win majorities in the House and Senate in the fall.