Gov. Asa Hutchinson
today told reporters that there is now supermajority support for the Medicaid budget in the House.
"I'm very pleased with that progress and that development," Hutchinson said, adding that House Speaker Jeremy Gillam
had confirmed the count.
"Arkansas Works," the governor's plan to continue the Medicaid expansion private option, passed 70-30 last week in the House. However, the Medical Services appropriation — which includes both "Arkansas Works" and the entire traditional Medicaid program — demands 75 percent approval, and a rump group of Tea Party Republicans have been making noises about blocking the budget unless the majority caves to their demands to end "Arkansas Works."
"I'm very pleased with the change in votes on the House side," he said. "I'm confident now that we have the three-fourths vote in the House of Representatives to support the funding for Arkansas Works." At least five House members who voted against the "Arkansas Works" policy have agreed to back the appropriation, the governor said. "They recognize it's a totally different issue when it comes to the funding of it."
Hutchinson also said that he had received the request from the Democratic caucus, in the form of a letter from Minority Leader Michael John Gray
, to hold off on other appropriations until the Medicaid budget is resolved one way or the other.
"[Their] request that the DHS Medical Services appropriation goes first is understandable and it's my understanding from House and Senate leadership that it will go first," he said. "That letter is acknowledged and that request is understandable and we do intend to go forward with the DHS appropriation first."
However, most observers at the Capitol believe that appropriation will be blocked by the Tea Party Ten in the Senate tomorrow. Hutchinson stopped short of saying that he approved of the idea of holding back other appropriations if the Medicaid budget stalls.
"If it doesn't pass, we want to be able to have discussions and see if there's a way to get it passed," he said. "In the mean time, the work of the House and Senate should continue. There's a number of appropriation bills that need to be considered." He said that just how to proceed would be a "game-time decision" and that if Democrats declined to move ahead on other appropriations, "we might have to take a pause — but let's not get ahead of the game, there's going to be a lot of back-and-forth discussions and we'll see what the best path is."
Hutchinson was asked whether the legislature might recess if the senate rejects the Medicaid appropriation tomorrow. "That's a potential [outcome]," he said. "That's a call I would only make with the House and Senate leadership. I want the DHS appropriation to pass, the Arkansas Works funding to pass. If it doesn't, we want to have conversations about how to get this funded and continue the program."
Support for special health care reporting made possible by the Arkansas Public Policy Panel.