- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A second proposal was filed Tuesday to end Arkansas’ compromise Medicaid expansion later this year, despite Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s call to continue the program through the end of 2016.

Rep. Donnie Copeland, a Little Rock Republican, filed a bill that would end coverage Dec. 31 for those on the “private option,” which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for the poor. The program, crafted as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health overhaul, has sharply divided Republicans in the Legislature.

Hutchinson, a Republican, 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.

A Senate panel is expected to consider the task force legislation Wednesday morning.

Copeland, who was elected to the Legislature after campaigning against the private option, said he believed the legislation creating the task force left too much uncertainty about whether the program would end.

“This clears up that ambiguity,” Copeland said.

Copeland’s measure is similar to a bill filed by several Republican senators that also calls for abolishing the private option by year’s end. Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, the measure’s chief sponsor, said she planned to run the proposal before the Senate Public Health Committee on Wednesday.

“The voters sent us a mandate in the last election cycle,” said Collins-Smith, a Republican from Pocahontas. “We want the private option repealed completely with an end date now, not later.”

Hutchinson told reporters he remained committed to his proposal to continue the private option while looking at longer term changes.

“The direction I urge Legislature is the Dec. 31, 2016, end and that we create that task force that’s been carefully set up to address specific needs under the guidelines set up in the bill,” Hutchinson said.

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