- Associated Press - Monday, April 4, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas legislative leaders asked Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday to drop his proposal to shift some Medicaid services to private companies, saying the plan faces too many questions to be included on the agenda for this week’s session.

Two days before the session is set to begin, House Speaker Jeremy Gillam and Senate President Jonathan Dismang said Hutchinson should limit the agenda to his plan to keep and rework the state’s hybrid Medicaid expansion. They asked the Republican governor to not include on the agenda his managed care proposal, or a competing idea offered by a group of lawmakers.

“After much conversation with our respective members, it is clear that there is sufficient support in both chambers for the Arkansas Works proposal,” the two Republicans wrote in a letter, referring to Hutchinson’s proposed name for the hybrid expansion. “Unfortunately, there’s not a consensus on the cost savings strategy for traditional Medicaid at this time.”

Hutchinson has proposed contracting with private companies to manage Medicaid services for the developmentally disabled and mentally ill. He has called his managed care plan “inextricably” linked to his proposal to keep the state’s hybrid expansion.

A spokesman for Hutchinson said the Republican governor would review the letter and make a decision Tuesday.

The plan has faced resistance from lawmakers from both parties who worried that managed care would lead to cuts in services by the private firms. An alternative plan backed by lawmakers opposed to Hutchinson’s proposal calls for the state to hire private firms to coordinate services, but continue paying Medicaid providers directly.

“We just don’t feel (managed care) is in the best interest of Arkansas, the taxpayers or the patients,” said Republican Rep. Michelle Gray, who was pushing for the competing plan, dubbed “DiamondCare.”

Hutchinson has defended his plan and last week pledged to use half the projected savings from his proposal to cut in half the waiting list for community and home-based services for the developmentally disabled over the next three years.

Dismang said he supported the governor’s managed care plan, and Gillam said he thought it had merits but was undecided. The two said they weren’t sure the governor’s proposal had enough support to get out of committee in either chamber.

“This is complex, it’s new and that uncertainty there just felt like it was prudent to give (lawmakers) more time,” Gillam said.

The two said they believed there are enough votes to pass Hutchinson’s proposal to keep the state’s hybrid Medicaid expansion, which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for the poor. More than 250,000 people are on the program, which was created three years ago as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law.

Hutchinson has proposed keeping the program but with new restrictions such as charging premiums for some participants. It takes a simple majority to approve Hutchinson’s expansion proposal, but the budget bill keeping the program alive will require a three-fourths vote in both chambers in a separate session that starts next week.

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

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