LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — The attorney general's office on Tuesday approved the wording of a ballot measure aimed at repealing a plan Arkansas lawmakers approved this year to use federal Medicaid money to purchase private insurance for thousands of low-income workers.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel certified the proposed referendum measure on the "private option," clearing the way for supporters to gather signatures to place it on the November 2014 ballot. Arkansans Against Big Government, the group behind the referendum measure, must submit signatures from at least 46,880 registered voters for it to qualify for the ballot next year.
The proposal asks voters to approve or repeal the private option law that Gov. Mike Beebe signed as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health care law.
Under the private option law, Arkansas would accept the money allocated for Medicaid expansion under the federal health care overhaul and would instead use it to buy private insurance for about 250,000 eligible low-income residents. Those individuals who earn up to 138 percent of the poverty line — or $15,415 per year — would purchase subsidized private insurance through the state's insurance exchange.
Glenn Gallas, the chairman of the group behind the referendum, said he expected to begin circulating petitions as early as next week. Gallas, a tea party activist who spoke out against the private option during the legislative session, said he believed voters would reject it if given the opportunity.
"It's going to affect every citizen in every walk of life and I believe the people should have their voice in whether they want it or they don't want it," Gallas said.
The private option proposal sharply divided legislative Republicans, who won control of both chambers in November for the first time since Reconstruction, partly by vowing to fight the federal health care law at the state level.
Beebe, a Democrat, and GOP supporters of the idea described it as an alternative to expanding Medicaid's rolls and a way to help businesses avoid penalties under the federal health law for not providing insurance to employees. Opponents described it as no different from the Medicaid expansion called for under the federal law.
Arkansas still must get approval from the federal government for the plan. Sen. Jonathan Dismang, one of the chief sponsors of the private option law, said he didn't believe the push for its repeal by ballot measure would jeopardize those efforts.
"I understand a lot of their concerns," said Dismang, R-Searcy. "If it does make it to the ballot we'll adhere to whatever the will of the people may be."
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