Medicaid, Obamacare get a boost in Arkansas

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D)
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D)
Associated Press

Sarah Kliff noted the other day that health care wonks have been buzzing for weeks about the so-called “Arkansas plan,” which had the potential of giving Medicaid expansion a boost in Republican-run states.

Would the Republican majority in Arkansas’ legislature be amenable? Apparently, to the relief of the Obama administration, yes.

The Arkansas House voted, 77-23, [Wednesday] to approve the appropriation bill, HB 1219, to pay for a federally financed expansion of Medicaid health insurance coverage under President Obama’s health care legislation. […]

The enabling legislation got 28 favorable votes in the Senate this afternoon, a favorable indicator for tomorrow.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D) supports the policy, and is expected to sign the bill after the legislature wraps up its work, probably today. Indeed, he negotiated with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to put the “Arkansas plan” in place.

Jeffrey Young explained why it’s a big deal.

Arkansas’ acceptance of the Medicaid expansion is notable because the state spearheaded efforts to pair broadening of the program with privatizing it and delivering health benefits to poor residents through private health plans on Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges. Ohio, Florida and other states dominated by GOP politicians are weighing similar plans after rejecting a straight expansion of the traditional government-run Medicaid program.

Federal approval of the Arkansas plan may spur action in states otherwise hostile to Obama’s health care law, which would boost the number of poor people who gain access to health benefits starting next year.

I tend to think this is a far less effective approach than the original Medicaid-expansion policy embraced by so many other governors, but if the “Arkansas Plan” helps red states feel better for ideological reasons, it’s better than nothing.

As for the politics of this, Republicans hoped to use the Affordable Care Act against Sen. Mark Pryor (D) next year, a task made more difficult by the GOP-led legislature endorsing Medicaid expansion.