The Arkansas House of Representatives voted down yesterday the state’s Medicaid expansion plan on the same day that the Arkansas House Majority Leader told Virginia legislators in a press conference that his state had “buyer’s remorse.”
The Arkansas House of Representatives on Tuesday failed to pass legislation to continue a state program that used Medicaid dollars to enroll low-income residents in private health insurance, throwing the future of the nationally watched program into doubt.
Arkansas last fall became the first state to begin offering a “private option” for low-income residents instead of enrolling them in Medicaid—the result of a compromise between state Republicans and Democrats about how to implement a key provision in the Affordable Care Act.
The private option was designed to appeal to conservative lawmakers who wanted to cut the number of uninsured people in the state and use federal dollars to do so, but believed the private sector could provide care more efficiently than Medicaid.
But the private-option program has since become politically fraught in Arkansas, underscoring how even aspects of President Barack Obama‘s health-care expansion that initially won some Republican support are encountering more opposition now that the law’s rollout has stumbled.
Arkansas House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman held a conference call with Virginia reporters Tuesday, urging caution on the issue of Medicaid expansion.
“It was rushed through. I would encourage you to do everything you can to slow down the process,” said Westerman. “It’s going to be sold to you as ‘it is free money from Washington DC, we have to take that money.’ It is money from Washington DC, but you know as well as I do it’s not free and it’s going to have strings attached.”
Virginia Delegate John O’Bannon said he was struck by the parallels between Arkansas and Virginia.
“I am struck by the parallels here. I am struck by what they were starting to do with reforms, then they got into this thing of trying to name it something else. It’s still an expansion of ObamaCare,” said O’Bannon. “This reinforces in my mind that we’re on the right path here with our Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission, which is going to do this in a deliberative way, do a real thorough audit and get us to where we need to be to make these decisions. We certainly don’t want to go down a road when [Arkansas] is having buyer’s remorse already.”