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Beebe tells Delta group he is cautiously optimistic for 'private option' Medicaid plan in 2015

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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Gov. Mike Beebe said Thursday he remains cautiously optimistic that Arkansas will keep its compromise Medicaid expansion alive next year despite the defeat of a legislator who helped design the program.

Beebe, a Democrat serving his final year in office, told the Delta Grassroots Caucus that reauthorizing the "private option" will always be a tough fight, given the three-fourths votes needed in the Arkansas House and Senate to keep it alive. Under the private option, Arkansas is using federal Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents. It was crafted as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health overhaul.

"I think logic and reason will prevail," Beebe told the group at its conference in downtown Little Rock.

Beebe spoke two days after Republican Rep. John Burris lost a state Senate primary runoff in northern Arkansas. The contest focused on Burris' support for the private option Medicaid plan. Scott Flippo, the owner of an assisted living facility who defeated Burris, repeatedly cast the former House Republican leader as a supporter of the law they both deride as "Obamacare" for crafting the compromise expansion.

PHOTO: Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe talks to reporters after speakiing to members of the Delta Grassroots Caucus in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, June 12, 2014. Beebe said he remains cautiously optimistic that Arkansas will keep its compromise Medicaid expansion alive next year despite the defeat of a legislator who helped design the program. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe talks to reporters after speakiing to members of the Delta Grassroots Caucus in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, June 12, 2014. Beebe said he remains cautiously optimistic that Arkansas will keep its compromise Medicaid expansion alive next year despite the defeat of a legislator who helped design the program. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

Burris' defeat and the loss of another private option supporter in the May primary jeopardizes the future of a program that was reauthorized in the Senate earlier this year without a vote to spare. More than 172,000 people have completed enrollment in the program, state officials announced Thursday.

Beebe said opponents of the program are going to have to address what the people receiving coverage will do if the program is eliminated next year, and how the state will afford a tax cut package that was funded by savings expected from the compromise expansion.

Beebe also cautioned that opponents have just as difficult a road in trying to block the private option, given the support it's seen in the Legislature over the past two sessions.

"I'm still a believer that when you've got 70 percent, 72 percent, 74 percent of the General Assembly that favor a policy, it's going to be hard for 26 or 27 percent to reject that policy," Beebe told reporters after his speech. "There may be all sorts of negotiations to get there. That's what we do all the time."


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