Wednesday, March 06, 2013

TOP STORY >> Medicaid plan could be accepted

Leader senior staff writer

State lawmakers across the board seem to like the new government-paid, private-sector insurance proposal approved by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius better than the Medicaid expansion that the White House initially proposed, but they want more information.

At the request of legislators, Gov. Mike Beebe recently visited with Sebelius in Washington and came back with good news for those wanting more options.

House Speaker Davy Carter (R-Cabot) stopped short of optimism regarding the so-called private-option, but said it has a better chance of getting the necessary three-quarters approval of both houses than did the Medicaid expansion.

Carter said lawmakers are still awaiting more data from the state Department of Human Services filtered this time through the private-option insurance expansion proposal.

“We’re now in a posture that appears we are going to be able to purchase private policies for the entire population we’re talking about,” Carter said Tuesday.

That population is primarily working poor between 18 and 64 and their families — about a quarter of a million people.

Dr. Joe Thompson, the state surgeon general, doesn’t seem to have any misgivings. He said this would be a boon on several levels to clients, doctors, hospitals and the state -— particularly in rural areas where poverty is high, the percentage of insured is low, and hospitals often closed or threatened with closing.


Among residents between 18 and 64 years old in 2010, about 25 percent of those in White County and 23 percent of Pulaski and Lonoke County residents had no health insurance — and about 50 percent of those residents below 138 percent of the federal poverty level were not insured.

Thompson, who has been an activist trying to get more Arkansans insured for more than a decade, says there’s a lot to like about the private option.

People can get a private insurance card and doctors and hospitals get paid more than they would under Medicaid.

Because people will be insured with a private company, they can keep the same insurance as they go up and down the financial elevator. A Medicaid recipient who got a better job might not be qualified any longer and thus might have to find new insurance.

He said that, because those above the poverty rate would have copays, it would be possible to steer them away from the emergency room while making it more attractive to get preventative care.


Thompson said the private option could save an estimated 2,300 lives a year and most of the insurance money would flow to rural parts of the state.

State Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville), an insurance agent, said he believes a private company can usually administer services better than the government can.

“If the benefits were the same as Medicaid, the care and payment would be better,” Perry said. “Tennessee does it.”

State Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) says, “I’m very interested in the private sector option, with Medicaid folks being able to go on private insurance. It’s a much better plan.”

English said the original plan would have essentially turned 250,000 more Arkansans into welfare recipients. “But,” she warns, “everything is in the details.”

The private sector option is getting a warmer reception than the original Medicaid expansion did, according to state Rep. Walls McCrary (D-Lonoke).