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The Arkansas House on Tuesday approved a plan to use federal Medicaid funds to buy private insurance for low-income residents, with many Republicans saying the approach is the best way to maintain some control over provisions of a new federal health care law they still oppose.
The private-option plan was presented to legislators in two parts, with one part including language authorizing the plan and a second part setting up the funding. The funding element finally won its needed three-fourths vote in the House, though it still needs to be approved by the same margin in the Senate.
"I commend my colleagues who have just cast a difficult vote in favor of the 'private option,'" House Speaker Davy Carter said following the 77-23 vote. "With their support, Arkansas now leads the nation with a conservative alternative to the policy forced upon us by the federal government."
Some Republican leaders and Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe are promoting the idea as an alternative to expanding Medicaid enrollment under the federal health care law.
However, the program also hinges on approval from federal officials.
House Majority Leader Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, criticized Beebe for attempting to tie the private-option debate to a discussion about tax cuts and issued a stern warning to Republicans considering a switch.
"To my friends who are considering voting for this appropriation, but doing so against the convictions in your heart, I ask you this: Is this vote worth 30 pieces of silver?" Westerman said.
But Rep. Sue Scott, a first-term Republican from Rogers who had voted against the bill on Monday, told lawmakers that she had decided to support it after hearing from constituents worried about the impact of doing nothing.
"I had originally said I would not, but I've had too many phone calls from too many good hard working people, not lobbyists," Scott said.
Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, said voting against the private-option plan would indicate support for the "D.C. version of Obamacare."
"We have to make a choice today about what kind of health care we're going to have in Arkansas," he told his colleagues during a half-hour debate.