The Latest: Governor seeks end of Plan B coverage

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Latest on efforts to end a budget standoff over Arkansas' hybrid Medicaid expansion (all times local):

4:30 p.m.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he's asking the federal government for permission to stop covering emergency contraceptives for Medicaid patients.

The Republican governor said in a letter dated Tuesday that he's asking U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell the process Arkansas can use to waive the requirement that it cover Plan B for those on the state's hybrid Medicaid expansion. Hutchinson said he'll also pursue a waiver to stop covering such drugs for the traditional Medicaid program.

Hutchinson sent the letter to Republican Sen. Jason Rapert, who raised concerns about the hybrid expansion covering such drugs. State officials have said they're required by the federal government to cover the emergency contraceptives for the program, which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for the poor.


3:20 p.m.

A plan to save Arkansas' hybrid Medicaid expansion is advancing to the state Senate for a vote after Democrats dropped their opposition to an unusual tactic requiring them to initially vote against the subsidized health coverage.

The Joint Budget Committee on Tuesday endorsed the Medicaid budget bill, which includes a provision ending the hybrid expansion on Dec. 31. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he'll veto that provision, which would allow lawmakers to effectively fund the program by upholding his decision with a simple majority vote.

The plan is aimed at working around a group of Republicans who have blocked the Medicaid budget bill in the Senate. At least three of the 10 GOP senators blocking the budget have said they'll vote for the budget with the defunding provision, despite Hutchinson's vow to reinstate the program.

The Senate is expected to vote on the budget bill Wednesday.


2:30 p.m.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he is not open to a proposal by an opponent of Arkansas' hybrid Medicaid expansion to dramatically scale back the subsidized insurance program.

Hutchinson on Tuesday called the proposals by Sen. Alan Clark impractical and said many of the restrictions Clark is seeking aren't allowed by the federal government.

Hutchinson said now is not the time to debate the expansion, since the Legislature has already approved his plan to keep and rework the program. The Medicaid budget bill funding the expansion has stalled in the state Senate.

The Republican governor says tweaks being made to the plan aimed at allowing him to reinstate the program if it's defunded makes sense. He said the changes minimize the risk of a legal challenge to the line item veto strategy.


2 p.m.

The Arkansas House has rejected a bill that would have authorized reimbursements for court officials and members of the Legislature for their travel expenses in the next fiscal year.

Tuesday's vote came amid an impasse over the state's Medicaid budget. Twenty-one members of the House voted "present" on authorizing the reimbursements, which has the same impact as voting "No." The bill needed 75 to pass but received only 68.

Democratic Rep. Mary Broadaway of Paragould said legislators shouldn't be passing bills impacting their own finances while a decision is pending on Arkansas' hybrid Medicaid expansion. The "Arkansas Works" program has failed to win the required support among lawmakers. Gov. Asa Hutchinson wants to keep the program and the federal dollars that come with it.

House members also failed to pass the reimbursement bill last week as Democrats said they wouldn't vote for any other budget matter until the Medicaid impasse is over.


11:50 a.m.

The lobbying group for Arkansas' farmers is urging lawmakers to keep the state's hybrid Medicaid expansion alive.

The Arkansas Farm Bureau announced Tuesday it was endorsing Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's revised version of the program, which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for the poor. The group urged lawmakers to approve a Medicaid budget with funding for the program, which covers more than 250,000 people.

The group cited concerns about the impact ending the program would have on other state services because of funding cuts. The organization represents 190,000 families around the state.


10:45 a.m.

Legislative leaders are tweaking their plan aimed at allowing Gov. Asa Hutchinson to reinstate Arkansas' hybrid Medicaid expansion if it's defunded.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren proposed adding a provision to the Medicaid budget that would end the hybrid program on Dec. 31. The Republican lawmaker says Hutchinson could veto that provision, effectively funding the hybrid expansion if the governor's veto is upheld by a majority of the Legislature.

A joint legislative committee could take up the proposal as early as Tuesday afternoon. Hendren says the change is being made to address legal concerns about the line-item veto approach.

The plan is aimed at working around the constitutional requirement that three-fourths of the Legislature approve most budget bills. Hutchinson has said three of the 10 Senate Republicans holding up the Medicaid budget bill will vote for the measure with a defunding provision, even though he's promised to reinstate the funding.


9:40 a.m.

A Republican opponent of Arkansas' hybrid Medicaid expansion is proposing several major restrictions to the program he's casting as a potential compromise to end the standoff over its funding.

Sen. Alan Clark outlined several proposals Tuesday that would have to be made for him to support the Medicaid budget. The budget bill funding the program has stalled in the Senate.

Clark's proposal calls for moving those on the program from subsidized health insurance to Medicaid and ending coverage for those making more than 100 percent of poverty. It also calls for ending coverage for the morning-after pill, which state officials say is required by the federal government.

Clark's proposal would also end the expansion if the state's share of the cost exceeds $200 million.

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