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Arkansas House votes to repeal its Medicaid plan even as it is touted in Idaho as a good idea

Arkansas House votes to repeal its Medicaid plan even as it is touted in Idaho as a good idea

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
February 19, 2014
[post_thumbnail] Richard Armstrong, left, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, told members of a House committee Wednesday that a Medicaid expansion plan adopted in Arkansas is a good model for Idaho to follow. However, the Arkansas House voted Tuesday to discontinue the plan.

A committee of the Idaho House was asked Wednesday to consider a plan used in Arkansas dealing with expansion of Medicaid one day after the Arkansas House voted to discontinue the program.

About one hour into the testimony of Richard Armstrong, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, informed the committee that the House in Arkansas had voted not to continue with its unique Medicaid expansion plan.

“I saw that,” Armstrong replied to the House Health and Welfare Committee.

When asked if he had intended to disclose to the committee what the Arkansas House had done Tuesday with its plan, he said “I was certainly aware of it. I saw the news yesterday, and I was prepared to answer any questions about it.”

After the committee hearing Armstrong told IdahoReporter.com he is not aware of any current legislation in the Idaho Legislature that would seek to implement his proposed plan this year.

During his presentation, Armstrong said that if Idaho were to adopt the Arkansas approach to Medicaid expansion, money that the state would otherwise appropriate for Medicaid would be used to purchase insurance plans from private companies that sell their plans on Idaho’s government-run insurance exchange.

“What we’re talking about is using the qualified health plans that are in and are certified by the Idaho insurance exchange,” Armstrong explained. “We would use federal dollars to pay the premiums.” He added that Arkansas and Iowa have received federal approval for this type of arrangement; Pennsylvania, he said, was “nearing approval” for its own plan of this type.

Armstrong also suggested that there are several upsides to approaching Medicaid expansion as Arkansas has done.

“If you increase the marketplace of enrollees, you would see a greater interest among insurance carriers to provide plans in the rural areas,” said Armstrong. He also said that the Arkansas plan of providing private insurance would be complementary to the recent “justice reinvestment” initiative in that it would provide insurance coverage for addiction rehabilitation services. He added that private insurance plans will compensate health care providers at a higher rate than Medicaid currently does although last year one member of the House noted that Medicaid’s unique retroactive coverage was a financial benefit to providers not available from private insurance.

Additionally, Armstrong said that his department would like to see Idaho establish three new “24-7 community crisis centers” to provide mental health services to be located in Idaho’s panhandle, and in southeast and southwest Idaho respectively. He said such centers would be modeled after “successful programs in other states.”

Rep. Doug Hancey, R-Rexburg, asked Armstrong if other state agencies would need to provide funds for the Arkansas-style program.

Armstrong replied that with the Arkansas plan the federal government has allowed the use of federal treasury dollars to be used to directly pay for private insurance. “At this point we do not see the need for the use of any additional state dollars.”

Armstrong also suggested to the committee that if Idaho adopted the Arkansas plan, it should have a means of getting out of it as well. “We would propose in the legislation that there would be language that says that if the federal government changed its funding then this thing would sunset immediately, no if’s, and’s or but’s.”

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