GOP lawmakers file proposal to end Arkansas' 'private option' Medicaid expansion by Dec. 31

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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — A group of Republican lawmakers on Monday proposed terminating Arkansas' compromise Medicaid expansion by the end of the year, days after GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson called for keeping the program alive through 2016.

Freshman Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, R-Pocahontas, and six other senators filed legislation that would end the state's "private option" expansion on Dec. 31. Under the private option, Arkansas is using federal funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents.

Collins-Smith, who was not immediately available for comment, was elected to the state Senate last year on a vow to end the private option. The program, crafted as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health overhaul, has sharply divided Republicans in the Legislature.

Hutchinson on Thursday called for continuing the private option through the end of 2016 while a proposed task force looks at an alternative for those receiving coverage through the program and longer-term reforms to Medicaid. Legislative leaders have said they want to move as quickly as this week on his proposal.

A spokesman for Hutchinson indicated the governor wasn't open to ending the program sooner.

"Gov. Hutchinson has clearly laid out his plan for health care and what the wants to do and that's the plan he intends on going forward with," spokesman J.R. Davis said.

Reauthorizing the private option requires a three-fourths vote in the House and Senate, a threshold supporters of the program barely cleared last year.

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