Special session on health care set to convene | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Special session on health care set to convene

Posted By on Wed, Apr 6, 2016 at 10:05 AM

UPDATE: The governor is speaking now. He says, "the state of the state of Arkansas is strong — but there's always more work to be done, and that is the reason we are here today." Updates soon. You can watch a livestream here

***

The legislature today gathers for a special session, scheduled for three days, on health care. 

The question before them: whether or not to continue the private option, the state's unique version of Medicaid expansion, which provides health insurance for more than a quarter million Arkansans. Gov. Asa Hutchinson wants to continue the policy, with a few alterations that he negotiated with the Obama administration. The governor has re-named the policy "Arkansas Works."

Without the continuation of the Medicaid expansion, the state faces a hole in this year's budget of more than $100 million, the loss of hundreds of millions more in savings to the state's bottom line in coming years, the loss of billions in federal money flowing into the state's economy, and billions more in uncompensated care costs hitting hospitals in the state. And, of course, the state will be sending out cancellation letters to more than 275,000 of the state's low-income citizens. 

The legislature will vote on the enabling legislation for "Arkansas Works" this week, which is expected to pass easily. Large majorities support the measure. However, next week, when the fiscal session meets, a rump group of Tea Party Republicans threatens to shut down the entire Medicaid program in order to block "Arkansas Works" (the Medicaid appropriation requires approval from 75 percent of both houses). 

The legislature is not taking up the separate question of pursuing cost-saving measures for certain high-cost populations in the traditional Medicaid program. Two competing plans are floating — one backed by the governor that would use managed care companies and one backed by provider groups that would pursue the same slate of reforms but continue to have the state pay providers directly on a fee for service basis. The legislature is divided on the question, and the governor announced yesterday that the matter will not be taken up during this special session. 

The governor will address a joint gathering of the House and Senate at 10:30. 

Later this afternoon, the bill for "Arkansas Works" will work its way through House and Senate committees. 

Support for special health care reporting made possible by the Arkansas Public Policy Panel.

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