Arkansas Healthcare

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

On a second try, the Arkansas House of Representatives successfully passed the appropriation for the state Department of Human Services Division of Medical Services. The Division oversees the state’s expanded Medicaid program, which includes the health coverage of more than 300,000 low-income adults.

Echo Soza lives at Our House, a homeless shelter for the working poor in Little Rock. The 47-year-old housekeeper was uninsured a few years ago when she had a stroke.    

“I actually was hospitalized and then lost my housing and then came here,” she says.  

Arkansas House of Representatives.
ArkansasHouse.org

An effort to keep Arkansas' hybrid Medicaid expansion for another year fell short in the state House days after an attempt by congressional Republicans to repeal the federal health law that created the program failed.

The House voted 73-17 Wednesday for the budget for the state Medicaid program, including the expansion, falling two votes short of the 75 needed to send the measure to the governor. House leaders did not indicate when they would try another vote on the bill.

Arkansas State Capitol
Chris Hickey / KUAR News

The Arkansas Senate has approved keeping the state's hybrid Medicaid expansion another year after Republican efforts to repeal and replace the federal health law that created the program failed in Congress.

The state Senate voted 27-1 Tuesday for the budget for the state's Medicaid program that includes the hybrid expansion. The bill that now heads to the state House had failed to get the three-fourths majority vote needed on two separate votes Monday.

The floor of the Arkansas Senate.
Arkansas.gov

An effort to continue the hybrid Arkansas Medicaid expansion another year has failed in the state Senate, days after Republican efforts to repeal and replace the federal health law that enabled the expanded coverage faltered in Congress.

The Senate voted 19-1 and later 20-1 in favor of the budget for the state's Medicaid program, including the hybrid expansion, short of the 27 votes needed to advance. More than 300,000 people are on the program, which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents.

Asa Hutchinson
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he believes Congress will ultimately agree on a replacement for the federal health overhaul despite House Republicans failing to dismantle the law.

The Republican governor said Friday he has no doubt Congress will revisit the issue, but said he'll move forward with a plan for new limits on the hybrid Medicaid expansion Arkansas enacted under the law.

Representative Congressman Rick Crawford
crawford.house.gov

Republican First District Congressman Rick Crawford says in a statement to KUAR that he fully supports President Donald Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision to take additional time “to get health care reform right instead of right now.”

Rick Crawford
Talk Business & Politics

U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford of Arkansas's first district says he has not seen any changes to the American Health Care Act that would alter his opposition and voiced his concerns over government’s role and the Congressional process as reasons for voting no.

“I’m not for it right now and so far I haven’t seen any of the changes that will compel me to change that vote at this point in time,” Crawford told Talk Business & Politics Wednesday. The House could vote on the proposal Thursday.

Tom Cotton
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

U.S. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas says despite proposed changes to the federal healthcare bill introduced by Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, he still cannot back the measure. He also doesn't think it will have the support needed to pass in the Senate.

In a statement Tuesday, the Republican said:

Despite the proposed amendments, I still cannot support the House health-care bill, nor would it pass the Senate. The amendments improve the Medicaid reforms in the original bill, but do little to address the core problem of Obamacare: rising premiums and deductibles, which are making insurance unaffordable for too many Arkansans. The House should continue its work on this bill. It’s more important to finally get health-care reform right than to get it fast.

Millions of Americans will experience major changes to their health coverage if both chambers of Congress pass the Republican health care bill that's currently under consideration in the House of Representatives.

The bill would no longer require that Americans buy health insurance, and it would eliminate the current subsidies that are used to bring down the cost of premiums. NPR's full coverage explains how those subsidies would be replaced with a fixed refundable tax credit and there would be big changes to Medicaid.

U.S. Representative Steve Womack
Talk Business & Politics

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, says he is whipping votes for Speaker Paul Ryan’s healthcare reform proposal and hopes to see it move to the House floor as early as tomorrow.

Appearing on “Connect with Congress” through KATV Channel 7, Womack visited with Talk Business & Politics host Roby Brock on Wednesday morning.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed into law a bill that sets up three centers aimed at reducing the incarceration rate of those with mental illness.

The governor has earmarked $5 million for three regional Mental Health Crisis Stabilization Centers, saying they will benefit public safety. If law enforcement officers suspect someone they encounter is in need of mental health treatment, the staff at the centers can offer evaluations and treatment.

Hutchinson signed the bill Wednesday. He had listed it among his priorities for the 2017 legislative session.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  Arkansas Works Medicaid expansion
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is asking the Trump Administration for approval to make changes to the Arkansas Works Medicaid expansion program. They include lowering the eligibility cap, which would reduce the number of beneficiaries by about 60,000 people, and adding a work requirement for recipients.

The Republican governor’s announcement came the same day that Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives released a long-awaited plan to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law. Whether that will get the needed support for passage isn’t known yet.

Steps leading up the Arkansas Senate chamber.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

An attempt to ban the smoking of medical marijuana fell short in the Arkansas Senate while a bill to ban edibles was deferred. But both measures altering the voter-approved constitutional amendment could come up later this week.

Speaking on the Senate floor on Monday, Republican Jason Rapert of Bigelow said inhaling smoke is not good medicine.

“You mark my word. People will be hurt, they will be injured, and some will die as a result of this loose amendment,” said the senator.

Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson wants to add a work requirement to Arkansas' hybrid Medicaid expansion and to lower its eligibility cap, which would add new restrictions to the program even as the future of the federal health overhaul remains unclear.

The Republican governor on Monday detailed changes he'll ask the federal government to approve for the program, which uses Medicaid funds to buy private insurance for the poor. More than 300,000 people are on the program that was created in 2013 as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law.

Steps leading up the Arkansas Senate chamber.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

An Arkansas Senate committee has advanced bills to change the medical marijuana law approved by voters in November by banning smoking medical marijuana and the selling of food or drinks containing the drug, but an effort to halt the start of the program until the drug is legalized nationwide failed.

The Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor on Wednesday endorsed and sent to the full Senate bills banning the smoking, eating or drinking of marijuana, but allowing a patient or designated caregiver to incorporate marijuana into food or drink for medicinal use.

Arkansas State Capitol
Chris Hickey / KUAR News

A bill that would freeze enrollment in Arkansas' hybrid Medicaid expansion program has advanced out of a state House committee.

Republican state Rep. Josh Miller's proposal would require the state to ask federal officials for permission to end enrollment. The bill calls for new enrollment to end as of July 1, 2017.

The proposal now heads to the full House.

Miller says more people have enrolled than anticipated and lawmakers have expressed concern about the program's costs amid uncertainty about the fate of the federal Affordable Care Act.

State Sen. Jason Rapert (file photo).
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas voters took to the ballot box in November to put in place a medical marijuana program. They did so in the form of a Constitutional Amendment. But that doesn’t mean the state Legislature can't have something to say about it.

State Senator Jason Rapert, a Republican representing Conway and Bigelow talked to KUAR’s Jacob Kauffman about a bill to stop the program from going into effect unless the federal government legalizes medicinal use first.

This interview was taped on January 27.

marijuana
npr.org

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the first two medical marijuana bills into law Monday.

House Bill 1026 by Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock, extends the deadline for rule making from 120 days after the election to 180. It passed the Senate Jan. 19 after earlier passing the House.

Arkansas state capitol building.
Chris Hickey / KUAR News

An Arkansas legislative committee has voted to outlaw an abortion procedure that opponents call "savage" and "barbaric" while others deem it the safest way to end a pregnancy in the second trimester.

The proposal by a legislator who is president of Arkansas Right to Life would ban dilation and evacuation, also known as a D&E abortion. The measure passed the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on a voice vote Thursday.

Arkansas would be the third state to ban the procedure, after Mississippi and West Virginia. Similar prohibitions are on hold amid court challenges in other states.

Welcome to another edition of KUAR's Week In Review podcast where the KUAR News team takes a look at the news from the week that was.

Cindy Gillespie
C-SPAN

The Department of Human Services has virtually erased a backlog of Medicaid eligibility cases that had reached 140,000 people earlier this year, Director Cindy Gillespie said in a letter sent to Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday (Jan. 11).

As of Dec. 30, there were 692 overdue cases. Some individuals’ applications dated back to 2014.

“Based on a review of the remaining cases, all individuals have coverage and the only work that remains is simply clean-up of case files,” wrote Gillespie, who began working in her position in March.

Scott Pace is the CEO of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association.
Karen E. Segrave / Arkansas Business

With President-elect Trump and a Republican Congress expected to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Arkansas hospital officials are watching the situation with a great deal of uncertainty.

Almost 11 percent of Arkansans – about 325-thousand people – now have coverage through an exchange set up through the state’s Medicaid expansion program.

Reporter Mark Friedman with Arkansas Business talked with several hospital officials for a story in this week’s issue. Friedman also spoke with KUAR's Michael Hibblen about what he heard. You can hear the full interview above.

Outside the Arkansas House chamber in the state Capitol building.
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

A State of the State address from the governor and the first salvo of medical marijuana-related bills are expected Tuesday morning, day two of the 91st General Assembly.  Governor Asa Hutchinson is scheduled to address a joint session of the state House and Senate at 10:30 a.m.  Watch the speech here.

Arkansas Surgeon General Joe Thompson
Jacob Kauffman / KUAR News

In Arkansas lawmakers and health officials have been exploring the outer limits of Medicaid expansion for several years now, typically pushing for more restrictions on the insurance program for low-income residents made possible by the Affordable Care Act. And under a Donald J. Trump presidency, some conservatives are eager to push the parameters of coverage to require more from low-income beneficiaries. 

This morning NPR  took a look at Indiana's and Arkansas's alterations of Medicaid expansion.

CORRECTION: This story originally mistook a projection from the Arkansas Department of Health about when its rules and regulations will be finalized for when medical marijuana will actually be available to patients in the state. We regret the error. 

CORRECTION: Future medical marijuana users will not have to pass a law enforcement background check but caregivers who are legally empowered to purchase and handle the drug therapy on the patient's behalf will.

The Arkansas Department of Health late Monday afternoon released a draft of the physician's written certification necessary for an Arkansan with one of the qualifying 18 conditions to get medical marijuana once the state's dispensaries are licensed and running.

The Medical Marijuana Commission meets today.
Senate Information Office

Arkansas's newly appointed medical marijuana commissioners are slated to hold their first meeting Monday at 2:00 p.m. The five-member commission was appointed last week to help facilitate the licensing and regulation of dispensaries and cultivation centers as outlined by the voter-approved Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment.

Arkansas Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe with Gov. Asa Hutchinson and other state health officials urging opposition to two medical marijuana ballot measures.
David Monteith / KUAR News

Arkansas took a few more steps toward implementing its voter-approved medical marijuana program this week and the constitutional amendment’s architect says he has faith that a conservative administration is so far faithfully carrying it out. Although, attorney David Couch does have some reservations about what the state legislature might do to the healthcare program during next year’s legislative session.

Governor Asa Hutchinson
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson says the Obama Administration has approved changes for Arkansas's Medicaid expansion program, though the waiver has stricter requirements than he wanted in providing assistance to employers who offer insurance for lower-income employees.

In a press conference Wednesday, Hutchinson said federal Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell called him Tuesday night, the day after they met in Washington, saying she would issue a letter Wednesday saying the waiver for the Arkansas Works program, previously known as the Private Option, would be granted.

Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and House Speaker Jeremy Gillam
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and legislative leaders have appointed the five members of a board that will develop Arkansas' medical marijuana policy.

Hutchinson on Wednesday named Little Rock breast cancer surgeon Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman to the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission. House Speaker Jeremy Gillam appointed Benton pharmacist Stephen Carroll and lawyer Travis Story of Fayetteville. Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang named former Senate chief of staff James Miller of Bryant and pain specialist Dr. J. Carlos Roman of Little Rock.

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