Wednesday, April 10, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Expansion has benefits

There’s a good chance Arkansas will lead a pioneering program that will expand Medicaid coverage for the state’s working poor. After much opposition in the legislature, the so-called private insurance option has passed several hurdles in recent days and goes for a vote in the House of Representatives on Thursday.

Passage of an historic private option bill will benefit 250,000 working poor and many small hospitals that will be reimbursed for services they now write off as charity care. Although the expansion is to be be funded through federal funds, private insurance companies will be responsible for the program.

The private insurance option bill passed the Senate last week and sailed through a House committee on Tuesday. Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Searcy) and House Speaker Davy Carter (R-Cabot) support the private option, which the federal government would fully fund for three years, after which the state pays just 10 percent of the cost.

The private insurance option will reduce Medicaid rolls, but Arkansas will still receive hundreds of millions of dollars from Washington to fund the program, much like highway funds that no state can afford to reject. As Gov. Mike Beebe told us last week, if we reject the money, “that’s like telling the federal government we want our transportation money sent to California.”

Dismang and Carter see Medicaid expansion as an economic issue that will not only benefit Arkansans but also our struggling local hospitals whose emergency rooms are swamped with people who have no insurance. Hospitals cannot offer huge amounts of charity care indefinitely.

It was surprising to see Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) and Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) vote against the expansion last Friday, even though several hospitals in their districts will receive millions in compensation from the program.

According to the state Human Services Department, Medicaid expansion will pump $151 million into the state’s economy in fiscal 2015, $176 million in fiscal 2016 and $146 million in fiscal 2017. By fiscal 2021, the state will pay less than $11 million for the expansion.

If House Bill 1143 is approved this week, it will mean a $670 million boost to the state’s economy over 10 years. For a poor state like ours, it makes no financial sense to reject the private option — although when it comes to our legislature, you might as well expect the unexpected.

This long session has had its good days and its bad days. The low points have included passage of a $125 million corporate welfare package for a dubious steel mill in Mississippi County, which passed with very little debate. 

It was also sad to see Sen. English and Sen. Jon Woods (R-Springdale) co-sponsor a bill that would allow payday lenders to return.

Say it ain’t so, Jane. Why would you enable these bloodsuckers who are trying to sneak back into Arkansas? We got rid of them once, and let’s not allow them back into our great state.

Senate Bill 900 may be the worst legislation of this session. Let it slink into oblivion.