Arkansas House gives final OK to keeping Medicaid expansion

Arkansas State Capitol
Credit Wikipedia.org

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas lawmakers voted Wednesday to keep the state's Medicaid expansion another year after federal officials said the state can require people on the program to work or volunteer to keep their coverage.

The Arkansas House approved by a 79-15 vote the budget for the state's Medicaid program and the hybrid expansion, which uses federal and state funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents. The measure needed at least 75 votes to pass. It now heads to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's desk.

"It just reflects the fact that when people listen and they work for a good end result, we can get the job done," Hutchinson told reporters after the vote.

More than 285,000 people are on the program, which was created as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law.

The Trump administration earlier this week approved Arkansas' request to require thousands on the expansion to work or volunteer. Arkansas is the third state allowed to impose a work requirement on Medicaid.

The bill cleared a major hurdle a day earlier in the state Senate, where vacancies had created uncertainty about the program's future. The proposal passed without a vote to spare in that chamber Tuesday. In the House, it passed without any debate.

Republican Rep. Brandt Smith, who voted against the measure, expressed skepticism about the work requirement and said he had hoped Arkansas would get another limit it proposed to restrict the program's eligibility. Federal officials and the state said they're still discussing that proposal, which would remove more than 60,000 people from the program.

"The taxpayers of this state deserve better and when I see it getting better I'm all for it," Smith said.

Arkansas' work requirement will affect non-disabled, childless adults on the plan who are 19 to 49 years old.  People affected by the change will be required to work or participate in other activities such as volunteering or vocational training for 20 hours a week. Arkansas' requirement will not affect people on its traditional Medicaid program, which covers more than 645,000 people statewide.


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