Senate completes approval of health care expansion pact

LITTLE ROCK — The Senate on Thursday passed and sent to Gov. Mike Beebe the final piece of a legislative package encompassing Arkansas’ alternative to Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Without discussion, the Senate concurred in House amendments to Senate Bill 1020, enabling legislation for the so-called private option plan to use Medicaid funding to subsidize private health insurance for as many as 250,000 working Arkansans who don’t earn enough to pay for coverage on their own.

The Senate then passed the bill 27-5 and sent it to the governor. Late Wednesday, the House gave final legislative approval to an identical House bill and the Senate and the Senate did the same for House Bill 1219, which authorizes the state to use Medicaid dollars to fund the private option.

The amendment that the House and Senate tacked onto the enabling legislation was intended to firm up provisions stating that the plan would not go into effect unless the federal government fulfills all of its obligations to the state under the proposal, and that Arkansas businesses would not be penalized for employees earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level who obtain private insurance through a state insurance exchange instead of through their employer.

The stipulations secured the three-fourths majority voted in the Senate required for approval of the funding bill.