Tuesday, February 25, 2014

TOP STORY >> Private plan is still short of two votes

Leader staff

Whether House Speaker Davy Carter (R-Cabot) would call for a vote on private-option health care insurance Tuesday was “a game-time decision,” according to his spokesperson, Cecillea Pond-Mayo. The speaker, less than 30 minutes after she said that, called for adjournment without raising the issue.

Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jack-sonville) and Rep. Walls McCrary (D-Lonoke) both said the matter may not be considered again until after the close of the week-long filing period, which opened at noon Tuesday and closes at noon March 3.

They have said some people voting “nay” or “present” or staying away might be willing to vote for private option after the deadline passes for filing for office. They think some fear they will draw opposition if they vote for private option.

In light of hefty Medicare cuts, the Medicaid private-option vote is critically important to local hospitals, according to Paul Cunningham, vice president and spokesman for the Arkansas Hospital Association. Medicare cuts to the state’s hospitals this year are estimated at $265 million to $270 million, Cunningham said. That’s money straight out of hospital revenues.

But if the private option passes, Arkansas hospitals will receive $189 million in Medicaid revenues, helping offset much of the cuts, he said.

Locally, North Metro in Jacksonville will lose about $1.3 million in Medicare funds, but stands to gain as much as $1.4 million in Medicaid money — a possible net gain of $100,000.

Citing Arkansas Business’ annual November roundup of hospital finances, Cunningham said, “You can see that North Metro is a little financially stressed.”

Cunningham also said the association is in favor of the private option. “We’re not aware of a plan B,” he noted.

He said the 100,000 working poor Arkansans currently signed up for the private option will be left without coverage after June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

In a moment of levity, Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Benton) addressed the House to commend its members for winning the charity basketball game last week. Then he suggested they play every day until the Senate gets the outcome it seeks.

That was a good-humored poke at Carter, who had vowed to vote on the private option every day until it passes.

The private option has been voted on and failed to pass with the needed 75 percent supermajority in the House five times since the session began.

It only took one vote in the Senate to get the necessary 75 percent — that’s 27 votes. Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) cast the decisive vote.

But not for nothing. English met with Gov. Mike Beebe and members of his cabinet several times before trading her yes vote on private option for a reorganization of workforce education in the state. That’s an important issue for English, and some see it as a win-win situation. That is, her vote helped the Senate effort to provide health insurance to the working poor and, indirectly, may help the poor and working poor find better jobs through more appropriate education.

The story is being covered across the country. The Atlantic’s story Tuesday was headlined “The State Where Obamacare Stopped Working,” with a kicker noting it “could be a very bad sign for proponents of expansion in other red states.”

The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle are among others following the story.