It took two full weeks and five separate votes — but on Tuesday, the Arkansas House voted to continue funding its alternative to Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion, meaning that nearly 100,000 of the state’s poorest residents won’t be kicked off their health coverage on July 1.
The so-called “private option” was a compromise hammered out by Arkansas’ Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, Republican state lawmakers, and the Obama administration that let the state use federal money to help people earning up to 1.38 times the poverty level buy private plans through Arkansas’ Obamacare marketplace. About 100,000 people have already signed up for coverage under the compromise.
However, the private option was only funded through the summer of 2014 and needed its appropriations to be renewed this legislative session. Republican lawmakers who originally supported the plan began to back away in recent months — and since appropriations bills in Arkansas require three-fourths supermajorities in both legislative houses, even a single defection could have spelled doom for the private option.
Despite steep concessions from Democrats and Obamacare supporters — including a freeze on doing any sort of ACA-related outreach — the private option failed on the first four votes. One GOP lawmaker, state Rep. Nate Bell, admitted he pressed for concessions such as the marketing freeze in an effort to get fewer uninsured people to sign up for health care.
Since the Arkansas Senate has already renewed the private option, the bill now heads to Gov. Beebe, who will sign it.