Steve Brawner / Talk Business & Politics

Steve Brawner is a freelance journalist and contributor to Talk Business & Politics.

He is also a syndicated columnist in 10 Arkansas newspapers.

You can email him at or follow him on Twitter: @SteveBrawner.

Hours after Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the Legislature would consider only his Arkansas Works legislation in a special session that begins Wednesday, legislators publicly released a bill they say will help the state’s Medicaid system save more than a billion dollars over five years.

The 30-page bill would create DiamondCare, which would use private administrative services organizations that would contract with the Department of Human Services to manage some Medicaid services, rather than those services being managed entirely by DHS.

Herb Sanderson AARP
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson will limit the call in the upcoming special legislative session to his continuation of the private option, which he is calling Arkansas Works, and will not ask legislators to consider his managed care savings plan.

Hutchinson announced his intentions during a press conference at the Capitol Tuesday, the day after Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe; and Speaker of the House Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, informed him in letters that a majority consensus exists with Arkansas Works but not with his managed care program.

Jonathan Dismang
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR News

The leaders of the state House and Senate are asking Gov. Asa Hutchinson to focus the upcoming special session on Arkansas Works, which is his continuation of the private option, and omit a second bill that would create a managed care model for some Medicaid programs because it doesn’t have enough support.

The Arkansas attorney general has certified the ballot title for a proposed constitutional amendment that would require the General Assembly to limit damages in medical lawsuits, but its health provider backers are pulling that amendment in favor of another they say will be more comprehensive.

Chase Dugger of JCD Consulting Services said the particulars of the new proposed amendment were still being considered Monday, but the bill will be submitted to the attorney general’s office soon.

Asa Hutchinson governor
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson will include only two items in his special session call: a bill creating Arkansas Works, and a bill creating a managed care system for some Medicaid programs, his office said Tuesday.

The decision means a bill competing with the managed care bill and supported by some legislators will not be on the call list.

Hutchinson is calling legislators into a health care special session April 6 to consider those issues, to be followed April 13 by a fiscal session, which occurs every even-numbered year.

A group of five legislators was meeting Monday to prepare an alternative to the managed care bill supported by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Rep. Michelle Gray, R-Melbourne, said the group’s bill would create DiamondCare, a model where a private company would administer parts of the Medicaid program with incentives for cost-effective care.

One Capitol Mall has houses the Joint Budget Committee.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

A draft of the Arkansas Works Act of 2016, which would create the program that would replace the private option, is circulating among legislators and includes recommendations made earlier by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Meanwhile, two bills – one meant to produce savings through a managed care model, and one meant to produce savings through a “managed fee for service” model known as “DiamondCare” will begin circulating as early as today, Talk Business & Politics has learned.

Office of the Governor

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s administration is introducing two separate pieces of legislation in the upcoming special session: one that will create his program for continuing the private option, which he is calling Arkansas Works, and one he is calling a “savings bill” that includes a managed care provision and a managed care “bill of rights.”

Hutchinson made the comments Tuesday speaking to a town hall meeting – his first as governor – at Central Baptist College in Conway.

Total funding for public education would increase by less than 1% in fiscal year 2016-17 under a recommendation accepted by the legislative Joint Budget Committee during a pre-fiscal session meeting Wednesday.

John Stephen Stephen Group
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR News

The loss of the private option would have a $757 million impact on the state budget from 2017- 2021, legislators were told Monday morning.

Stephen Palmer with The Stephen Group, the consulting firm hired by the Health Reform Legislative Task Force, told legislators that ending the private option would result in an increase of $213 million in state expenditures over that five-year period. Meanwhile, ending it would reduce tax revenues by $544 million.

Governor Asa Hutchinson John Selig Medicaid DHS Department of Human Services
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR News

It’s been an eventful decade since John Selig was appointed Department of Human Services director in 2005 by Gov. Mike Huckabee. He led DHS through a merger with the Department of Health under Huckabee, a move that was reversed under Gov. Mike Beebe.

Asa Hutchinson healthcare
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR News

Of the eight contested Republican primary races where Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s political action committee donated money in support of candidates supportive of his Arkansas Works initiative, six were winning Tuesday night, though at least two of those races were tight as of 11 p.m.

ASA PAC had contributed $5,400 to three Senate campaigns and five House races where the state’s Medicaid expansion was a central issue and where Hutchinson had supported candidates who agreed with his aims.


Hillary Clinton
KATV, Channel 7 News

Ahead of Super Tuesday and fresh off a resounding victory in South Carolina, Hillary Clinton told a supportive crowd of 1,000 at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Sunday that she is running for president to dismantle barriers.

“We will all do better when we’re in this together, when everybody feels like the future can be theirs,” she said.

Interstate 30
Arkansas Highway & Transportation Dept.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) has floated the idea of cutting the state’s largest economic development incentive program as a funding source for highways, but the idea is being resisted by those who say the program cuts the cost of manufacturing plant upgrades and helps retain jobs in Arkansas.

File photo: Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaking to reporters at the Capitol
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday that his main proposed changes to the private option remain intact after his recent discussions with federal Department of Health and Human Services Director Sylvia Burwell.

Also, he unveiled the state’s new brand direction for its economic development efforts: “Arkansas Inc. When you’re in Arkansas, you’re in good company.”

Hutchinson made the announcement at the 2016 Joint Winter Conference of the Arkansas Economic Developers and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce Executives.

Arkansas Guns
Talk Business & Politics

Arkansas is the nation’s fifth most dependent state on the gun industry, and the most dependent in the South, according to WalletHub, a personal finance website.

The company’s analysts studied the gun industry in each state and the District of Columbia to determine which states depend the most on it for jobs, have the highest gun ownership, and make the most gun-related political contributions.

Terry Bradshaw
Steve Brawner / Talk Business & Politics

NFL great and former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw praised the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences as hospital executives told the UA System Board of Trustees on Wednesday that $97 million is needed to address critical facilities needs.

Steve Brawner / Talk Business & Politics

Hundreds of pro-choice supporters participated in a Rally for Reproductive Justice Saturday, 43 years and one day after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide.

Asa Hutchinson governor
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday announced a plan to increase highway funding by $750 million over the next 10 years, making the state eligible for an additional $2 billion in federal matching funds over that time period that was made available by the federal highway bill passed by Congress in December.

The Arkansas Scholarship Lottery has sold more than $19 million in Powerball tickets as of Tuesday during this latest run that began Nov. 5, and about half of that money will go to scholarships.

The Arkansas State Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission is awaiting one more submission before deciding when its next meeting will be, according to a letter sent from the secretary of state’s office to a man who says he wants to erect on the Capitol grounds a privately funded monument to the Hindu monkey god Lord Hanuman.

Governor asa hutchinson talk business & politics
Talk Business & Politics

Gov. Asa Hutchinson urged school board members to “ask the right questions on security” Friday, saying that parents must be confident their children are safe in order for schools to excel.

“Let me tell you: In this world today, a concentration on security and safety in the schools is paramount,” he said at the Arkansas School Boards Association’s Annual Conference. “If parents cannot have confidence in the school district and its security plan, then they’re not going to have comfort in terms of the quality of education. It starts with safety at the schools.”

Asa Hutchinson
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s proposed replacement for the private option, “Arkansas Works,” should encourage employer-based insurance, incentivize work, and ensure program integrity through a variety of means, including potentially an asset test for recipients, Hutchinson said Tuesday.

Speaking to the Arkansas Medicaid Educational Conference, Hutchinson (R) made it clear the private option will not continue in its current form, saying, “Please understand very carefully that on Dec. 31, 2016, the private option ends. The private option ends.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has directed the Department of Human Services to pause development of its $112-million-over-budget computerized Medicaid Enrollment and Eligibility Framework (EEF) after receiving a report from a consultant recommending he do so.

Highways traffic Big Rock Interchange interstate
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

An October poll by the Good Roads Foundation found that Arkansans support more funding for highways but would oppose any increase in the gas tax above 2 cents per gallon.

The study was conducted by WPA Opinion Research and sponsored by the Good Roads Foundation, a group that supports increased funding for highways. 

A proposal that would increase motor fuels taxes by 15 cents per gallon, paired with an earned income tax credit, is the best approach for funding highways without hurting lower-income workers, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families says.

The Governor’s Working Group on Highway Funding is finalizing four funding proposals for Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) that would increase money for highways. Hutchinson afterward said he’ll only consider proposals that don’t increase overall state revenues, which would virtually eliminate three of them.

I-30 interstate 30 construction
Arkansas Times

Town hall participants questioned the need for the 10-lane I-30 Crossing across the Arkansas River at the Clinton Presidential Center Monday, while some offered their support for the project.

A view of the Jefferson County Courthouse in Pine Bluff from inside the historic, but crumbling Hotel Pines.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

It’s no secret that Pine Bluff has seen better days. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population dropped 7.6%, from 49,080 to 45,332, from 2010 to 2014. That’s down from 57,389 in 1970. The median household income of $30,515 is more than $10,000 less than the Arkansas median of $40,768.

Jefferson County’s unemployment rate of 7.8% is 2.4 points higher than Arkansas’ 5.4 percent. Many Arkansas downtowns are rundown, but parts of Pine Bluff’s Main Street have fallen down.

But there are bright spots, and a reason to look ahead.

eStem UALR
David Monteith / KUAR News

Little Rock’s eStem Public Charter Schools is sending a letter to the Arkansas Department of Education’s Charter Authorizing Panel informing it that it will delay until February its application for a multi-school setup meant to reduce its 6,000-student waiting list.

The school had intended to make its application before the panel next Tuesday, said CEO John Bacon, but has decided to slow the process and be less aggressive in its approach.