As expected, the Senate voted 27-8 to approve the budget which includes the appropriation for the private option for Medicaid expansion.
That gives the controversial program the needed supermajority in the Senate to fund it for another year. The private option will still need to be approved by supermajority in the House, which came up short twice earlier this week, and is set to vote again this afternoon. It’s going to be close: Passage requires 75 votes and most believe the count in the House is between 74 and 76. Many believe that the House can pick up several votes from members allied with Rep. Terry Rice. Rice is challenging Sen. Bruce Holland, who voted for the private option; the rumor is that Rice’s allies wanted to ensure that Holland took the tough vote. Rice will vote no and try to use the issue against Holland in the Republican primary. Rep. Mark Lowery is also thought to be a possible Aye vote.
The key swing vote in the Senate was Sen. Jane English, who voted for the private option in return for a statewide workforce training initiative. English said she has been pushing reform on that front for a long time and saw an opportunity to light a fire under that issue. “I think we’re going to do some really wonderful things in the state and change the we’ve been doing business for a very long time.” English said she understood there would be some pushback from two-year colleges on the new initiative but “once people get the bigger picture, and how we do something better for all the citizens of the state of Arkansas, everybody’s going to have a chance to get on board.”
Does she approve of the private option? “Not really,” she said, “but sometimes you have to look at how do you do something bigger and better.” English kinda sorta tied the two issues: “The bottom line is we’ve got so many people that qualify for these Medicaid programs and at some point you’ve got to change what you’re doing so we can get people not have to be on these programs if they have good skills and good jobs so they can buy their own insurance.”
One of the people pushing back against the English initiative is Rep. Tommy Thompson, a Democrat who did not vote yesterday on the private option because of his frustration with the English deal. Thompson is mad about a change in baseline funding for two-year colleges (they’d still have access to the same funds, but it would be a competitive process) — but the community college in Thompson’s home of Morrilton is actually a leader in the workforce training that the English initiative would incentivize, so the school would almost certainly benefit on net.
Sen. Jonathan Dismang said that today’s Senate vote would likely loosen up some votes in the House. “My understanding is that it does but I don’t think there’s any way for me to guarantee that, as someone who’s not a member of the House. I think there was an inclination of some members that would like for us to be the ones to go first.”