Monday, November 10, 2014

TOP STORY >> Private option needs lifeline in legislature

Leader senior staff writer

New and current legislators in Lonoke County or north of the River in Pulaski County say they don’t want to dismantle the state’s innovative private option, which with the federal healthcare marketplace insures about 250,000 low-income working Arkansans.

That doesn’t mean that many don’t want to make it more economical and efficient.
Private option, which passed both chambers of the General Assembly last year by the narrowest of margins, must be reauthorized each year by a three-quarters majority in each.

Private 0ption is Speaker Davy Carter’s legacy. Carter, R-Cabot, state Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe and state Sen. David Sanders, R-Little Rock, were among the prime movers. Carter is termed out and Tim Lemons has been elected representative from that district.

Dismang and Saunders are back.

Many new Republican legislators say they will look to Governor-elect Asa Hutchinson for guidance.

Hutchinson said private option benefits working poor, including those who may never had health insurance before and has helped hospitals reduce uncompensated care, thus boosting revenues.

“We need to look at long-term costs,” he said.

Carter says he’s confident that the new lawmakers won’t jettison the program.

“I’d hate to see it repealed. It’s innovative, we’ve seen the number of uninsured in Arkansas decline by half,” he said. “It’s working better than the traditional Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

He said speaker-elect Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, supports private option.

“We’re looking at a big shift in Congress, and that’s going to have a big effect on Obamacare,” according to Jane English, R-North Little Rock, which could well affect Private Option in Arkansas.

She said several facets of the Affordable Care Act need revisiting, including those pertaining to taxes on medical devices.

“We don’t know yet what the governor is feeling,” she said.

English cast the deciding vote on funding Private Option this spring, a vote she traded for promises to consolidate and streamline workforce education, and a seat at the table.

“I want people to have health care,” said state Rep. Joe Farrer, R-Austin on Thursday. “That’s different than health insurance,” he said, adding that Private Option has made a lot of money for the health insurance industry.

He said he doesn’t know how sustainable the Affordable Care Act, including private option, will be in Arkansas, as the federal share of the cost diminishes over the life of the program.