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State House OKs private option

The state House on Tuesday voted 76-24 to approve a new round of funding for the so-called private option, resolving the issue that has dominated the fiscal session

The Senate passed the appropriation last month in a 27-8 vote. The House failed in four previous attempts to pass it, each time falling a few votes short of the three-fourths majority, or 75 votes in the 100-member House, needed to approve any appropriations bill.

Senate Bill 111 goes next to the governor, who has said he will sign it.

The private option is Arkansas’ program, created last year, that uses federal Medicaid money to subsidize private health insurance for people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. About 94,000 people have enrolled in private plans through the program, and another 11,000 who applied have been enrolled in traditional Medicaid, according to the state Department of Human Services.

House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, said previously that if the measure did not pass Tuesday the Legislature could either go into a temporary recess or end the session without completing the budget process. Tuesday’s vote appeared to make those options unnecessary.

Gov. Mike Beebe had said that defunding the private option not only would take insurance away from thousands of Arkansans but also would require adjusting his proposed budget to eliminate $89 million in anticipated savings from the program.

Opponents have questioned whether the state will be able to afford its eventual 10 percent share of the program’s cost.

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