Arkansas lawmakers vote to keep Medicaid plan after ruling

Local News

(4/3/19) Arkansas lawmakers have voted to keep the state’s Medicaid expansion another year, days after the program’s future appeared in limbo following a court decision blocking the state from enforcing a work requirement.

The majority-Republican House voted 75-18 on Tuesday for the budget for Medicaid and the expansion program, sending the legislation to GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The Senate-backed bill last week fell short of the 75 needed in the 100-member House to win final approval.

The vote comes nearly a week after a federal judge blocked Medicaid work requirements in Arkansas and Kentucky. Hutchinson has urged the federal government to appeal the decision and said he wanted lawmakers to maintain the expansion program, which covers 235,000 people.

Jessi Turnure@JessiTurnure

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Replying to @JessiTurnure

@AsaHutchinson responds to the House voting down the budget: “Some House members still have questions regarding Thursday’s work requirement ruling. That’s to be expected. I expect a second vote next week, and I trust the bill will pass.”

Jessi Turnure@JessiTurnure

UPDATE: After failing by 20+ votes Friday, the Medicaid appropriation bill gets just enough votes to pass in the House, following a federal judge’s decision to strike down the work requirement. pic.twitter.com/HUNIFEMgK5

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“This is a key part of my budget and provides essential funding for health care needs of those Arkansans who are struggling financially,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “This appropriation also allows us to continue the fight for reform, such as the work requirement.”

Arkansas’ work requirement applied only to the expansion program, not traditional Medicaid. More than 18,000 people lost coverage last year because of the requirement, but were eligible to re-enroll in January. Hutchinson has said 2,000 have done so. Democratic lawmakers proposed legislation this week that would immediately reinstate those who have lost coverage.

Arkansas’ expansion program, which uses federal and state funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents, has sharply divided the majority-Republican Legislature since it was created in 2013. Last week’s ruling prompted some GOP lawmakers to urge a delay in considering the budget bill or to take up the expansion’s budget separately.

But the only lawmaker to speak against the measure Tuesday focused on concerns about the overall cost of the Medicaid budget rather than the ruling.

“We’re on a road that we cannot pay for,” GOP Rep. Mary Bentley said.

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