- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s decision to keep the state’s first-in-the-nation hybrid Medicaid expansion was upheld Tuesday by the state Senate, which rejected an attempt to override his veto of a budget measure that would have ended the subsidized insurance.

Without debate, the Senate rejected by voice vote a motion to consider overriding Hutchinson’s veto of a Medicaid budget bill provision that would have ended the program on Dec. 31. The program, which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for the poor, was created three years ago as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s health care law.

The override attempt had been widely expected to fail since supporters of the hybrid expansion had voted for the budget bill after Hutchinson vowed to veto the defunding provision. The Republican governor and legislative leaders devised the line-item veto approach to get around a deadlock over the program in the Senate, where the Medicaid budget bill had fallen short of the three-fourths vote needed.

Republican Sen. Bart Hester, who asked for the override, said he believed there would be more opportunities to fight the hybrid expansion.

“Time is our friend,” Hester said.

Hutchinson declined through a spokesman to comment, pointing instead to comments he made last week when he vetoed the provision. Lawmakers earlier this month approved Hutchinson’s plan to keep the expansion and add new restrictions, including a requirement that some participants pay premiums.

“By vetoing this section, our state will avoid serious consequences and the Department of Human Services will be able to implement the Arkansas Works program which was approved overwhelmingly by the General Assembly,” he wrote in a veto letter dated Thursday, referring to the hybrid expansion.

Opponents of the program have predicted the line-item veto approach will be challenged in court, calling it an end-run around the state’s budget process. Hutchinson has said he believes the maneuver would survive a legal challenge, though legislative leaders have floated the idea of passing new legislation setting a Dec. 31, 2021, end date for the program to protect it in case a judge overturns the line-item veto.

The Department of Human Services has begun drafting the waiver request it’ll have to submit to the federal government for the new restrictions to the expansion program and will hold hearings before submitting the proposal mid-summer, spokeswoman Amy Webb said. Webb said the department hopes to get federal approval this fall.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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