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Arkansas Governor Readies Continuation of Medicaid Expansion

By Rebecca Adams, CQ Roll Call

February 6, 2015 -- Arkansas GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson is expected to sign legislation next week reauthorizing the state's novel Medicaid expansion program for another year.

The bill renewing and funding the expansion, which is provided to beneficiaries through private plans in the insurance marketplace created under the health law, is part of a two-bill package that the legislature is considering. The funding bill that allowed the program to continue cleared the legislature for Hutchinson's signature last week, while a separate measure creating a task force that will recommend further changes in the future is expected to pass the Senate next week and move on to Hutchinson's desk.

"The expectation is that early next week both will be signed," said spokesman J.R. Davis.

Earlier this year, some observers wondered whether Hutchinson would call for a quick end to the program or whether the legislature would try to kill it this year. The program must be reauthorized every year by a three-fourths vote in each chamber, so the legislature will debate the issue again next year.

If the program were to end, about 213,000 people would be affected.

However, Hutchinson said last month that the program should continue for another two years while a new task force meets to come up with recommendations for additional revisions.

The Arkansas framework, known as the "private option," was a model for several other states led by Republican governors that used Medicaid dollars to buy private plans for beneficiaries in the marketplace.

The House gave the funding reauthorization final approval by a 82-16 vote. The other measure has passed both chambers but because the House made minor changes, the Senate must concur and clear it.  

The governor said when the House approved both measures late last week that the vote "was a bipartisan effort and represents the right step forward as we seek ways to best reform Medicaid in Arkansas. I am grateful for the confidence that the legislature has placed in the task force and the opportunity it represents to guide the future of health care reform in Arkansas."

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have agreed to expand Medicaid under the health care law since the U.S. Supreme Court gave states in 2012 more power to reject expansion. Ten of the states that broadened eligibility to more people were led by Republican governors

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