LITTLE ROCK — Former President Bill Clinton praised Arkansas’ so-called private option and Kentucky’s health insurance exchange, Kynect, in his keynote address Friday at the annual conference of the Southern Governors Association.
The association’s three-day conference is being held in Arkansas for the first time in 14 years. Gov. Mike Beebe is scheduled to speak on the private option, Arkansas’ version of Medicaid expansion, on Saturday.
“Arkansas ranks first in the country in the percentage reduction of its uninsured people, and Kentucky is second,” Clinton told the group at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Little Rock. “You guys should be really proud of that.”
A Gallup survey released earlier this month found that in the first six months of 2014 Arkansas reduced its uninsured population from 22.5 percent to 12.4 percent and Kentucky reduced its uninsured population from 20.4 percent to 11.9 percent.
The private option uses federal Medicaid money to subsidize private insurance for Arkansans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Kynect is Kentucky’s state-run health insurance exchange and is widely regarded as one of the most successful exchanges in the country.
“In both cases, we had practical solutions to a genuine challenge,” Clinton said. “Both of these efforts are going to keep a lot of rural hospitals open.”
The theme of the conference is Lab to Market: Accelerating the American South’s R&D Network. Clinton said he was glad to see the emphasis on “network.”
“There’s more than one way to skin the cat that America faces today, but there is no way to avoid the need for the network — for shared responsibility, shared decision-making, shared benefits,” he said.
Clinton added that “I’m going to miss my governor when he’s not here anymore,” referring to Beebe’s term ending in January. Arkansas’ term-limits law prohibits Beebe from seeking a third term.
Clinton also was scheduled to appear at a fundraiser for the state Democratic Party in Little Rock on Friday night.
Beebe told reporters he planned to speak Saturday not only about the private option but also about the state’s Health Care Payment Improvement Initiative, which seeks to shift the state from a system in which doctors are paid for every service provided to one in which they are paid for episodes of care and rewarded for positive outcomes.
Asked what he would say to governors who chose not to accept the Medicaid-expansion money under the Affordable Care Act that is funding Arkansas’ private option, Beebe at first joked that he would say, “Thanks for helping pay for our people.”
But in seriousness, Beebe said he would not “jump on any other governors for their own decisions.”
“For us it was the right thing to do,” he said. “We’re paying for Medicaid expansion. Our taxpayers are paying for it and mainly our hospitals are paying for it (through Medicare reductions), whether we take it or not. … For me, and for Arkansas, if we’re going to pay for something, we want our fair share of what we’re paying for.”
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had been scheduled to speak at the conference but was unable to attend because of civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo.