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Arkansas House, Senate leaders name members of panel to study Medicaid plan's future

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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Twelve Republicans and four Democrats were named Monday to a legislative task force studying alternatives for covering the thousands of people currently enrolled in Arkansas' compromise Medicaid expansion.

House Speaker Jeremy Gillam and Senate President Jonathan Dismang announced their picks to the panel, created last month as part of the plan to keep the state's "private option" program going. Under that system, Arkansas is using federal funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents. The program was crafted two years ago as an alternative to the Medicaid expansion envisioned under the federal health law.

Gillam named:

—Republican Reps. Charlie Collins of Fayetteville, David Meeks of Conway, Justin Boyd of Fort Smith, Joe Farrer of Austin, Kim Hammer of Benton and Michelle Gray of Melbourne;

—Democrat Reps. Reginald Murdock of Marianna and Deborah Ferguson of West Memphis.

Dismang, meanwhile, named:

— Republican Sens. Jim Hendren of Gravette, Cecile Bledsoe of Rogers, Jason Rapert of Conway, David Sanders of Little Rock, John Cooper of Jonesboro and Terry Rice of Waldron;

—Democratic Sens. Linda Chesterfield of Little Rock and Keith Ingram of West Memphis.

Gillam and Dismang are both Republicans, and the GOP holds a majority in the House and Senate. Democrats were assured of at least two spots on the panel, since the law creating it required spots for the party leaders from both chambers.

The panel appeared to be a roughly even split between lawmakers who supported and opposed the creation of the private option.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson had proposed the task force as he called on lawmakers to maintain the private option through the end of next year. The panel is required to issue its recommendations by the end of this year.

Gillam and Dismang said they hoped to call the task force's first meeting soon.

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