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Again, and to his credit, Gov. Asa Hutchinson won against odds within his own political party to preserve a strong form of Medicaid funding in Arkansas.

With a federal waiver to institute work requirements for maintaining state-funded Medicaid insurance, the governor narrowly saw the continuance of Medicaid funding for the next biennium with a 27-2 margin in the Upper Chamber last week.

With approval from the Trump administration, Arkansas now has a waiver which allows the state to mandate a work requirement of 80 hours a month on able-bodied people between 19-49 years of age who draw Medicaid funds.

The $8.2 billion authorization for Medicaid passed, and state Senator Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, gave a "thumbs up," as he has promised he would do if passed by the short-staffed state senate -- usually 35 members but down to 32. Passage of the bill, Senate Bill 30, required 27 voters for passage.

The final vote was 27 yeas, 2 nays, two not voting and one voting present.

A sigh of relief could be heard from the opposite end of the capitol building coming from the Governor's office last Tuesday afternoon.

And a vote, largely symbolic on the next day from the state House of Representatives, with 99 members and one vacant seat, passing the measure 79 yeas to 15 nays.

A pair of House members voted present, while another three did not vote on the state's largest budget item in the 2019-2020 budget.

With the Medicaid funding issue out of the way, the other budget bills flowed smoothly to fund the Arkansas government and within Gov. Asa Hutchinson's budget -- which is a balanced budget in accordance with Arkansas statutes.

The state Senate vote was the linchpin of the legislation. Some observers predicted that some far-right conservative Republicans could "hold up" the Governor's plan or even derail the budget by refusing to vote for the Medicaid provisions with the new waiver from the federal government.

The work requirement was among the first allowed under the federal Medicaid program. While conservative members of the Republican Party have asked and advocated for these requirements, once approved, several were still unsure if they would approve the passage.

As expected, senators Linda Collins-Smith, R-Pocahontas, and Bryan King, R-Green Forest, voted against the bill affecting 300,000 Arkansans.

On the House side, the divide was a little deeper and yet did not derail the approval.

Among the 15 nays, were six GOP House members from northwest Arkansas, House members, Charlotte Douglas of Alma, Grant Hodges of Rogers, Robin Lundstrum of Springdale, Austin McCollum of Bentonville, Clint Penzo of Springdale and Nelda Spears of Mountain Home.

The two voting present were: Jim Dotson of Bentonville and Marcus Richmond of Harvey.

Area House GOP members voting for the plan from NWA were Bob Ballinger of Hindsville, Charlene Fite of Van Buren, Bruce Coleman of Mountainburg, Charlie Collins of Fayetteville, Gary Deffenbaugh of Van Buren, Jana Della Rosa of Rogers, Dan Douglas of Bentonville, Kim Hendren of Gravette and Jeff Williams of Springdale.

All the Democrats from NWA voted for the proposal. Area GOP members were split on the issue.

State Rep. Lundstrum, who voted "no," said the Medicaid costs were "still too much for a little-possible reform."

"We were 48th in overall health care in the nation before the new money and still 48th after this vote," she continued.

"The work requirement is a good step in the right direction but not enough to make this work," she said.

On the other side of the GOP, Rep. Fite said she was overall fine with the Medicaid vote.

"I'm pleased with the reforms Governor Hutchinson has made in the Private Option/Arkansas Works Program," Fite said. She noted that attending work training or even doing volunteer work can fulfill this requirement.

The Governor has also made other changes that will make the program more sustainable as the state takes over more of the cost burden from the federal government, she said.

"And not voting for Arkansas Works would have had an overall negative effect on our state budget, and would have been harmful for many of our citizens who are receiving help via Arkansas Works," Fite said.

And the GOP debate continues.

• • •

Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at maylontrice@yahoo.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 03/14/2018

Print Headline: Savvy move in State senate secures Medicaid in state

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