Tuesday, February 03, 2015

TOP STORY >> In switch, Farrer for a private option bill

Leader senior staff writer

With the support of an unlikely co-sponsor, Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Health Care Reform Act of 2015 — that’s SB96 — passed out of the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor subcommittee on a voice vote Tuesday morning and could face a House vote Thursday, where it needs only 51 votes to pass.

Rep. Joe Farrer (R-Austin), who staunchly opposed the private option in 2012 and 2013, co-sponsored this bill in the House with Public Health, Welfare and Labor Chair Kelley Linck (R-Flippin).

The bill would guarantee private option, Arkansas’ innovative solution to Medicaid expansion, through Dec. 31, 2016, and would create a 16-person legislative task force, along with new Surgeon General, Dr. Greg Bledsoe, to study alternatives to end private option, continue it or continue it with changes intended to make it more efficient and cost effective.

In his private option address, Hutchinson called on the task force to have recommendations by the end of 2015.

Farrer has said he’d vote to reauthorize private option through 2016 while the task force works to realign Arkansas health care.


Farrer said he would also support SB101, which funds the Department of Human Services to the tune of $8 billion, the Division of Medical Services for $2 billion of that, and, under it, private option — about $1.5 billion.

As an appropriation, SB101 bill needed a supermajority, three-quarters of the 35 senators. It needed 27 votes and got 29.

In the House, it will need 75 votes, but the Republican-dominated House and Senate seem to have little stomach or enthusiasm for opposing a popular new Republican governor not even a month in office.

There are about 25 co-sponsors of the Health Care Reform Bill of 2015 in the House, but Farrer said Tuesday he and Linck were the primary sponsors.


He said he had not been promised a spot on the task force for his support, but he has talked with the speaker and the Senate president pro tempore about his interest in being appointed. He also said he thought his position as a Medicaid provider at North Metro Medical Center in Jacksonville would be beneficial.

“Two years ago, I tried to stop it,” he said. “I said it was too expensive, and we couldn’t afford it, and I was right.”

Farrer said it would take so long to end the private option, including the appeals process, that it was more practical to support the governor’s plan.

“I want to provide health care,” he said, “not health care insurance.

“I want to reform the Medicaid system,” he said. “That’s what we should have done first.

“We’ve got to fix the system to where the hospitals and providers can survive.

“To me, it ends the private option the way it should be ended. It doesn’t kick everyone off. We’ll come up with a plan that meets Arkansas’ needs.

“This gives us a task force to fix the plan,” he said. “You can’t put another system on top of a broken one and make it work.

“I’m pushing to get on the task force,” he said.


Area lawmakers could play a large role in drafting those recommendations. Both Senate President Pro tempore Jonathan Dismang (R-Searcy) and House Speaker Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia) will be on the task force and each will appoint six other members.

Both have supported private option in the past, and Dismang was a primary architect of it.

In addition, Jim Hendren, as Senate majority leader, and Senate minority leader Keith Ingram (D-West Memphis), will be on the task force.

House Majority Leader Ken Bragg (R-Sheridan) and Minority Leader Eddie Arm-strong (D-North Little Rock) will be on the task force, too.