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VOL. 129 | NO. 41 | Friday, February 28, 2014

Arkansas House Speaker: Medicaid Talks Continuing

ANDREW DeMILLO | Associated Press

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – Opponents of Arkansas' compromise Medicaid expansion on Wednesday said they're floating ideas to slow enrollment, as they began meetings with House leaders aimed at ending a legislative stalemate over the program.

House Speaker Davy Carter met for two hours with several opponents of the "private option" plan to use federal Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents. The House again delayed a fifth vote on reauthorizing the program, approved last year as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law.

Touted as a way for Republican-leaning states to implement the federal law, the program is at risk of being abandoned after its funding measure failed four times before the House last week. More than 93,000 people are receiving subsidized coverage through the program.

Carter met for about two hours with a handful of lawmakers who have opposed the expansion to see what alternative ideas they have to offer. Before the meeting, Carter said he doesn't believe there's enough support to change the legislation any more.

"There's simply not 51 members that have had a desire to change the bill. Otherwise that would already have been done," Carter, R-Cabot, said. "Therein lies the quagmire we've been in for the last week. We'll sit down, talk about it, see what's realistic and what's not realistic."

Carter afterward described the meeting as productive, but declined to give specifics on any ideas that were presented. Carter said he planned to talk with the group more Thursday.

"Although there was no solution, it was a policy discussion about the semantics of how the system works and that sort of thing," Carter said.

Private option opponents said options discussed included a limited enrollment period for the program, rather than allowing year-round enrollment.

Rep. Allen Kerr, R-Little Rock, who attended the meeting, said the proposed open enrollment period would allow the state to "slow down the enrollment so we can catch our breath."

Rep. Bruce Cozart, who also attended the meeting, said opponents are looking at other ideas that would slow the program's growth but not necessarily end it.

"What we would like to do is slow it down. ... We know we just can't kill it," Cozart, R-Hot Springs, said.

Cozart earlier proposed having the private option considered separately from the state Medicaid budget.

The Senate approved legislation reauthorizing the private option last week, but the bill has failed to win the 75 votes needed in the 100-member House four times. Carter said he doesn't know when he'll bring the legislation back before his chamber.

It's unclear what alternatives opponents of the private option would offer that could win the endorsement of the program's supporters. The legislation already includes amendments aimed at swaying opponents, including a prohibition on the state spending any public money to promote the private option.

The main alternative floated by opponents – a plan to halt enrollment in the private option and end the program by March of next year – has been dismissed by supporters of the program as a non-starter since it kills a program they're trying to save.

Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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