Arkansas Senate OKs bill keeping hybrid Medicaid expansion

By: 
The Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK (AP) — The Arkansas Senate on Tuesday approved keeping the state's hybrid Medicaid expansion another year after Republican efforts to repeal and replace the federal health law that created the program failed in Congress.

The state Senate voted 27-1 for the budget for the state's Medicaid program that includes the hybrid expansion. The bill that now heads to the state House had failed to get the three-fourths majority vote needed on two separate votes Monday.

The top Republican in the Senate said that after the repeal effort failed in Washington, Tuesday's vote showed the focus in Arkansas is on how to reform the expansion program and not ending it.

"I think the fight about the continuation or the existence of it is something that's really in the rear view mirror now," Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren said after the vote.

More than 300,000 people in Arkansas are on the program, which uses Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents. Gov. Asa Hutchinson earlier this month said he planned to seek federal approval to move 60,000 people off the program and to impose work requirements. A special session is planned in May to take up legislation related to the changes Hutchinson is seeking.

The program has sharply divided Republicans, who control both chambers of the Legislature, since it was created in 2013. Hutchinson effectively saved the program last year by voiding part of a budget bill that would have ended the expanded coverage.

Republican Sen. Bryan King, who voted against the measure, called its growth unsustainable. King has said the budget measure should be considered during the special session alongside the changes Hutchinson is seeking to the program.

"The credit card on (the Department of Human Services) and Medicaid spending is going up and up, and we need to stop this because it is hurting all of state government," King said on the floor before the vote.

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