LITTLE ROCK — The state Board of Health on Thursday endorsed a resolution supporting the expansion of the state Medicaid program to add about 250,000 people to the rolls.

The expansion is part of the federal Affordable Care Act of 2010. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that the expansion must be optional.

Gov. Mike Beebe has said he is inclined to go ahead with the expansion, which would be entirely funded by the federal government for the first three years. The state eventually would pay up to 10 percent of the cost.

Republican legislators have said they have reservations about the expansion and have asked Beebe not to rush into a decision. Beebe has acknowledged that the expansion will need legislative approval.

Board of Health member Dr. Clark Fincher said Thursday that opting out of the expansion would be a mistake.

"Opting out of the Medicaid program expansion places an economic burden on hospitals and other health care providers who will not be reimbursed for services they may provide," Fincher said in a written statement.

Fincher said almost 600,000 Arkansas in a population of 2.9 million have no insurance coverage, and providing basic services to them consumes a great deal of the state’s resources.

"It places the burden of payment for care on institutions like hospitals and health care providers, who must, by law, provide very expensive care when Arkansans present to hospitals and emergency rooms with urgent needs and no insurance. This does not lead to good quality care," he said.

Fincher noted that the state Department of Human Services has estimated that with the influx of federal dollars the state would see a net savings of $372 million over the first seven years of the expansion, when benefits such as state income taxes collected on the federal money and reduced uncompensated care are factored in.

He also cited a report in the New England Journal of Medicine which found that states that voluntarily expanded their Medicaid programs over the last decade had mortality rates more than 6 percent lower than neighboring states that did not expand Medicaid.

"If Arkansas does not accept expansion of the Medicaid program, the state will still bear the financial burden through federal taxation to pay for the program for states that do participate, thus paying the bill without receiving the benefit," Fincher said.

Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, whom Republican House members have said they will install as House speaker if they win a majority in that body in November, said Thursday the board’s position was no surprise.

"Everybody is needing more money, and you’re going to see it in many other places around the state that’s going to be calling, ‘We need more more money, this is thee quickest way to get money.’ But we’re trying to look at the short term and the long term, what’s best for the state of Arkansas," Rice said.

Republican House Caucus leader Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, said the board’s position was expected.

"It’s the typical agency argument to increase the dependency of people on state programs and to expand government," he said. "In my opinion, we should be focusing our efforts on reducing the size of government and reducing government dependence."