Arkansas lawmakers have a couple more weeks in this year’s budgeting session to re-approve funding for Arkansas Works, the state’s healthcare program for low-income people. Yet, a handful of state senators and their votes to continue the program remain on the fence.
Arkansas Works covers about 285,564 low-income people. It also brings in federal dollars that are important to the state budget. The Arkansas Department of Human Services says it would cost the state $148.9 million extra in fiscal year 2019 to continue serving the program’s population without the federal match from Arkansas Works.
Governor Asa Hutchinson’s spokesman J.R Davis says his office is negotiating with a handful of Senators whose votes are needed to re-approve the program this year. He says they’re hopeful it will pass.
“I think that Senators, as well as those in the House, but really the key Senators, who have sort of been on the fence about this issue before, they see that record, they see that we’re heading in the right direction, and again, I think it just boils down to them asking those questions and getting answers, and again, I think the work requirement is, again, the big question and answer that they are seeking right now.”
The governor is waiting for federal approval of waivers that would allow the state to add work requirements and income caps to the program. It’s a popular conservative change.
State Sen. Ron Caldwell (R-Wynne) is one of the legislators who's still undecided. He says his vote isn’t contingent on anything in particular, though he has been pushing for legislation on a different healthcare issue: regulating and increasing the reimbursements pharmacists from intermediaries, called pharmacy benefit managers, for drugs they sell through Arkansas Works.
“I want to be sure that we get a special session for the Pharmacy Benefit Manager bill that we’re trying to run. It has to be done in a special session now. It would be easier to do. I won’t say it has to be done, but it would be easier to do.”
The Governor has said that a special session will happen right after the fiscal session ends. He is hoping the federal waivers to add work requirements will be approved by the end of this fiscal session. Re-approving funding for Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act has been contentious every year since the program began as the so-called Private Option in 2013.
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