LITTLE ROCK — In a quick reversal, the House voted Tuesday to approve funding for the so-called private option for expanding health care coverage to low-income Arkansas workers.
The 77-23 vote Tuesday that exceeded the three-fourths majority necessary for approval of the appropriation in House Bill 1219 came less than 24 hours after the measure failed Monday on a 69-28 vote.
In the House, one member who voted for HB1219 Monday switched and voted against it Tuesday, but nine others who either voted against the appropriation, voted “present” or did not vote Monday voted for it Tuesday.
“I think we’ve had a great day in the Arkansas House,” House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, told reporters after the vote.
Carter said a vast majority of House members showed with their votes that the private option is “the best choice on the table.”
“It stops a $25 million to $35 million penalty fee, tax increase, on small business, it prevents the Medicaid rolls from increasing, and at the end of the day it’s Arkansas taking charge to the best extent possible of the way we conduct our health care business in our state,” he said.
Gov. Mike Beebe, who had lobbied hard for passage of the measure, hailed the vote.
“It’s not a win for me. It’s not a win for those legislators. It’s a win for the people,” Beebe told reporters.
The bill now goes to the Senate, which approved enabling legislation for the private option Tuesday and sent it to the governor. The Senate is expected to take up the funding bill Wednesday.
The bill needs 27 votes in the 35-member Senate to pass. Senate President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, who supports the private option, said he could not predict the outcome.
“It’s an issue that people have strong feelings about and in both directions, but in terms of whether or not it will pass out, I really don’t know,” he said.
The private option is Arkansas’ unique alternative to expanding the state Medicaid rolls under the federal Affordable Care Act. The proposal would entail using federal Medicaid dollars to pay for low-income workers to buy private health insurance through the state insurance exchange.
The federal government would pay the full of cost of providing coverage to an estimated 250,000 currently uninsured Arkansans for the first three years. The state’s share of the cost would then increase gradually to 10 percent.
The federal government has not issued all the approvals and waivers needed for the private option but has approved it in concept. The legislation contains language that would prevent the entire plan from taking effect if any part of it is not approved by the federal government.
Rep. Stephen Meeks, R-Greenbrier, voted for the appropriation Monday but voted against it Tuesday.
Lawmakers who voted against the measure Monday and switched their vote to “yes” Tuesday were Reps. Skip Carnine, R-Rogers; Jon Eubanks, R-Paris; John Hutchison, R-Harrisburg; Allen Kerr, R-Little Rock; Kelley Linck, R-Yellville; and Sue Scott, R-Rogers.
Rep. Mary Slinkard, R-Gravette, voted “present” Monday and switched to “yes” Tuesday.
Reps. Stephanie Malone, R-Fort Smith, and Ann Clemmer, R-Benton, did not vote Monday but voted for HB1219 on Tuesday.
During debate on the House floor, Scott said she changed her position because she had received “too many phone calls from good hard-working people” who wanted her to vote yes.
Hutchison said in an interview that he changed his position after receiving about 2,500 calls from people in his district who wanted him to vote yes.
Linck said in an interview that he changed his position after talking to business owners in his district.
“I just kind of came to the conclusion I can keep standing in front of this truck and let it run over me or I can kind of run beside it and get on it and try to steer it,” he said.
House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, who has argued that the Legislature is moving too fast on the private option, spoke against the bill on the House floor. Westerman said he respected the positions of members who genuinely believed the private option was the best option for Arkansas, but to members who supported it for other reasons he said, “I do not respect your position” and asked, “Is this vote worth 30 pieces of silver?”
Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, spoke against the bill and complained about high-pressure lobbying that he said had reduced some legislators to tears.
“Do you want to be on the side of threats and intimidation or do you want to vote what’s in your heart?” he asked.
Kerr said in an interview that he also experienced threats and intimidation. He said he changed his position not because of that but because “Medicaid expansion is already here. We have to guide this plane to the ground.”
Hutchison said in an interview that he experienced pressure but did not think it was out of line.
“I had to accept that when I took this job,” he said.
Reporter Rob Moritz contributed to this report.