Medicaid Expansion Hot Topic leading up to General Assembly

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - 135 lawmakers will descend on to the capitol, January 14, for the start of the General Assembly session. Monday, incoming leaders of the House and Senate talked about the Medicaid expansion that will arguably be the most debated topic on the table.

The Supreme Court's ruling on the Affordable Care Act allows states to opt out of the Medicaid expansion. The decision is in the hands of our state leaders.

Davy Carter says, "It's all about the money."

Incoming Speaker, Davy Carter and incoming Senate President Michael Lamoureux are not convinced that the state will be better off with 250,000 more Arkansans being eligible for Medicaid, for an estimated total of 1.2 million people.

The way the health care law will work, the federal government will foot the tab for the Medicaid expansion when it begins in 2014. After three years, states must pay a gradually increasing share that tops out at 10 percent of the cost. Carter says, "Add ten percent of that number on the already escalating cost and those are real dollars Arkansas taxpayers are going to have to pay."

Lamoureux says, the take it or leave it offer is what will hold up the debate. It can't be changed or grown incrementally. He says, "I think we need to take our time and make sure we get this right."

Governor Mike Beebe adds, "We'll make available administrative personnel necessary to answer as many questions as is possible."

Although Arkansas is projected to have over 300 million dollars in surplus, there is currently a 138 million dollar shortfall in Medicaid. Governor Beebe has proposed 140 million dollars toward the expansion of Medicaid over two years (70 million a year). But Carter suggests using more of the surplus to fill the deficit and avoid cutting programs.{}

Governor Beebe says, "I never believe that you should over burden your budget process, by using one time money for ongoing programs."

In November, Republicans won control of the House and Senate for the first time since the 1800's. Governor Beebe is a democrat. He was in the senate for 20-years. He is optimistic it will be a successful session. "We're not like Washington. They can fuse, fight, argue, yell at each other but when the final analysis comes together, we try and solve problem for the people."

Governor Beebe's term is up in 2014. He says he has an obligation to whoever is next, not to leave them in too big a hole. "I'm obligated in November to present a balanced budget. I'm obligated to present it honestly and take the numbers I get from DF&A and what their forecast is and make proposals based on how you fund what those numbers require."

Lawmakers have not decided if the Medicaid expansion will be taken up during the General Assembly. The other option is a special session that cost money. Some lawmakers say it needs to be brought up during the session, because it affects other monetary issues being voted on.

CONTINUING COVERAGEArk. Medicaid faces nearly $200M funding gap (Nov. 13)Ark. Medicaid faces 'significant' cuts in services (Nov. 13)Beebe: Medicaid expansion can spare nursing homes (Nov. 14)Ark. surgeon general addresses Medicaid expansion (Nov. 27)Beebe: Vote on Medicaid expansion during regular session (Jan. 3)Medicaid expansion hot topic leading up to general assembly (Jan. 7)Focus on Medicaid as Ark. session begins (Jan. 14)Beebe: Medicaid shortfall not as large as anticipated (Jan. 15)Ark. lawmakers seek more details on Medicaid (Jan. 17)Medicaid shortfall possibly $60 million less than expected (Jan. 17)Impact of Medicaid expansion on rural hospitals (Jan. 25)Ark. House GOP leader: Medicaid a work in progress (Jan. 28)Beebe: Don't delay Medicaid vote until next year (Feb. 11)Officials tout 'Medicaid contraction' (March 1)Ark. lawmakers approve contract on Medicaid (March 5)Ark. GOP leader floats special session on Medicaid (March 25)