Beebe: Other states eyeing Arkansas’ private option to Medicaid expansion

HOT SPRINGS — Governors from across the political spectrum and across the nation have called wanting to know more about Arkansas’ private pay option for health care expansion approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature, Gov. Mike Beebe told rural development leaders Wednesday.

“I’ve had numerous calls from Republican and Democratic governors from other states wanting to know, ‘how did you do that,’” Beebe said during a speech at the Arkansas Rural Development Conference.

Speaking to more than 200 rural leaders at the Hot Springs Convention Center, Beebe said the argument that ultimately persuaded many Republicans who ran against President Obama’s Medicaid expansion program to support the state’s private pay option was the penalty that small businesses would have to pay if the state had not participated.

“The truth is, effectively, if this had this not passed … businesses in Arkansas would have been hit with $38 million in more money and rural hospitals would have been severely impacted and in many instances closed,” he said. “The argument that persuaded a lot of the legislators was the tax argument.”

Beebe told reporters after his speech that he has discussed the private option approved with about 10 other governors.

“I’ve had about three or four Southern governors of both parties, incidental, and about another five or six from different parts of the country, both Republicans and Democrats,” he said.

Under the new program, which still must receive final approval from the federal government, federal Medicaid dollars would subsidize subsidize the purchase of private health insurance for an estimated 250,000 people with annual incomes of up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — $15,856 for an individual, $32,499 for a family of four — through the state’s health insurance exchange rather than adding them to the Medicaid rolls.

Officials also expect another 211,000 people who are currently uninsured to enroll. Along with expanding health care to thousands of working poor, the new program also is expected to offset millions of dollars in Medicaid rate cuts to hospitals across the state and provide savings for businesses with more than 50 employees that otherwise would be penalized for not purchasing insurance for their workers.