Senator calls for special session to repeal health care private option


LITTLE ROCK — A state senator called on Gov. Mike Beebe on Tuesday to call a special session to repeal legislation passed this year to subsidize private health insurance for low-income Arkansans with federal Medicaid money.

Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, said that if the governor does not call a special session he will make it “my top priority in the 2014 fiscal session to end the funding for the private option” for health care expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

Beebe said later, “Of course, I’m not going to call a special session to undo the hard-earned, bipartisan accomplishments of this General Assembly.”

“Sen. King long ago abandoned interest in finding an Arkansas solution to the challenges of Obamacare, instead choosing the pipe dream that somehow it will simply go away if we don’t deal with it,” the governor said.

King said last week’s announcement by the Obama administration that it would delay for a year penalties for large employers who do not provide health insurance coverage to workers under the Affordable Care Act shows that more changes can be expected and that the state needs to fix its skyrocketing health care costs.

“We have to face the fact that the delay … was just one of many Obamacare implementation delays; it is very likely that we will continue to see Obamacare implementation delays in the future,” he said in a release.

King, who opposed the private-option proposal during this year’s regular legislative session, said Medicaid expansion “threatens to bust the state budget by burdening us with hundreds of millions of dollars of new spending obligations” that would be difficult if not impossible to make up through spending cuts or new taxes.

Beebe said that if King is successful in getting the Legislature to stop funding for Arkansas’ private option, “what will go away is the federal taxpayer money helping our hospitals and providing insurance for working Arkansas families.

“Instead, we’ll get tax increases for our businesses and higher uncompensated-care costs for both our hospitals and for currently insured Arkansans,” the governor said. “Plus, the tax dollars we are already paying to Washington will go to help people in other states. Arkansas chose the more positive path, and Sen. King’s bluster won’t change that.”

Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, one of the architects of the private option, said King has a right to ask for a special session, but he said the fiscal session is about six months away and any concerns can be addressed then.

“We’ve all known that there are issues with the Affordable Care Act, in fact … one of the reasons we worked towards the private option was to provide certainty to our business community, the health care community and to Arkansas citizens,” Dismang said.

“I don’t think what (the Obama administration) has done and the changes, as political as they may be, that are happening in Washington right now, should create a knee-jerk reaction here in the state,” he said, adding that delaying the employer mandate portion does not directly affect the state’s private option law.

Any changes in the federal funding mechanism would void the law, he noted.

The federal Affordable Care Act proposed that states expand their Medicaid rolls to include people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — $15,856 for an individual or $32,499 for a family of four in Arkansas. The state instead is proposing to use federal Medicaid money to buy private insurance for that population, estimated at up to 250,000 Arkansans, through the planned health insurance exchange.

King also called for lawmakers to repudiate the state’s partnership with the federal government in the exchange as well.

The federal government would pay the fill cost of the plan for the first three years, after which the state’s share would increase gradually to 10 percent.

The Obama administration has given unofficial approval to the plan, but a waiver is still needed. DHS plans to submit its application to the federal government on Aug. 2, after a public-comment period that will run through July 24.