From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our great nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
A new version of Medicaid expansion, one of the most important bills of this legislative session has been introduced.
The proposal has the support of the governor, health care providers and legislative leaders. If enacted, it would bring an estimated $9.7 billion in federal dollars into the Arkansas economy, and it will be a lifeline for rural hospitals.
For years, about 250,000 Arkansas residents received some type of medical care under Arkansas Works. Due to the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, last year that number went up to about 300,000 people.
Arkansas used to require those recipients to either work or continue their education in order to qualify for benefits, but the work requirement was blocked by lawsuits in federal court.
Also, the federal government under President Biden’s administration has signaled that it would drop the work requirement nationwide.
The current version is called Arkansas Works, and the proposed new version would be known as ARHOME. That stands for Arkansas Health and Opportunity for me.
Back in 2013, the original version of the health care program was called the private option, because it relies on private health insurance companies to provide coverage to eligible applicants.
The private option proved to be a success, and it brought national recognition to Arkansas. It was supported by a majority of legislators in both parties.
Unlike Arkansas, many neighboring states refused to expand their Medicaid programs under the federal Affordable Care Act. Those states have seen dozens of rural hospitals close, due to financial difficulties.
But in spite of its success it has always generated controversy and drama, because of a provision in the state Constitution that requires a supermajority of 75 percent in order to pass a spending bill.
In the Senate, that means it requires the votes of 27 of the 35 members. In other words, only nine senators can block it.
As a result, almost every year since its creation there has been a battle in the legislature to renew the Medicaid expansion program. This year may be no different.
The new proposal is beneficial for hospitals, physicians and other providers because it would reimburse them at the rates paid by private insurance companies.
Generally, that rate is higher than the standard reimbursement rate for Medicaid.
Also, it would target specific populations for specialized services. Those groups include veterans, pregnant women and young adults who come out of foster care.
Recipients won’t be required to work to qualify, but if they get a job or continue their education they will be covered under private insurance rather than traditional Medicaid. That means they would be eligible for more services, which is a strong encouragement to become financially independent.
From the Capitol, it is always my great honor and sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.