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Arkansas Medicaid-Private Insurance Proposal Passes in House

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April 16 (Bloomberg) -- An Arkansas proposal to use Medicaid money to buy private insurance for poor residents was passed by the House, a move that may help efforts for health-care overhaul in states with Republican-led legislatures.

Seventy-seven lawmakers voted for the legislation today, while 23 opposed it, surpassing the 75 votes needed for approval of a bill enabling spending for health care. The same measure had failed to achieve the votes yesterday, prompting House Speaker Davy Carter, a Republican, to seek another vote.

“Arkansas now leads the nation with a conservative alternative to the policy forced upon us by the federal government,” Carter said in a statement.

Governor Mike Beebe, a Democrat, received informal approval Feb. 18 from the federal government to use money for Medicaid expansion under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act to instead buy private coverage. The measure now goes to the state Senate.

“Many states were considering following suit depending on the Arkansas vote,” Robert Field, a Drexel University law professor who specializes in health-care policy, said in an interview before today’s vote. “It was hopeful that Arkansas would be a middle course by expanding Medicaid and making it work with Obamacare, but reassuring conservatives it was more of a private-sector approach.”

Late-Night Lobbying

Representative Nate Bell, a Republican, said on the House floor that late-night lobbying by groups favoring the plan had left some legislators in tears because of what he called intimidation.

Other Republican legislators denounced the Obama administration’s health-care overhaul while explaining their support for the Arkansas approach.

“It’s time to turn the corner and be in the game,” Mark Biviano, a Republican, said before the vote.

The Arkansas House is made up of 51 Republicans and 48 Democrats and one Green Party member, while the Senate has 21 Republicans and 14 Democrats.

The federal government has been forced to build part or all of the health-insurance exchanges in 34 states where governors or legislatures declined to do it themselves. The exchanges are supposed to open on Oct. 1.

Insurers specializing in Medicaid coverage jumped in New York trading after the vote, erasing earlier losses. Indianapolis-based WellPoint, the biggest private Medicaid provider, rose 3 percent to $70.34 at 12:10 p.m. WellCare Health Plans Inc., based in Tampa, Florida, gained 2.3 percent to $59.80.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Mildenberg in Austin at dmildenberg@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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