In the nation’s capital with a contingent of governors Tuesday, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said several of his colleagues are looking for ways to adapt the federal health care law, as Arkansas has, to work better in their individual states.
Arkansas received a waiver from the federal government to implement its "private option," the state’s alternative to expanding Medicaid rolls that uses Medicaid dollars to subsidize private health insurance for low-income Arkansans.
Beebe said the waiver process came up during a White House meeting he attended as a member of the executive committee of the National Governors Association. The hour-long meeting with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden was closed to the media but the governors were available afterward.
"As long as you don’t violate the law, (Obama) was totally open to flexibility," the Arkansas governor said.
The governors said the meeting covered a wide swath of issues, from infrastructure and education to environmental regulations and health care. Beebe said the president listened and was receptive to working with governors to improve the economy.
In Little Rock, state legislators were getting their first view of Beebe’s proposed $5 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. It is balanced, in part, on an estimated $89 million in savings from the private option plan.
Beebe said he expects an intense fight to keep the private option, considering it takes three-fourths of the Legislature to approve a budget, but he said the projected savings from the plan would help keep it in place.
His argument to maintain the program is that the state can’t revoke the health care law known as Obamacare, so lawmakers should find the best option for the state.
"You can hate the Affordable Care Act all you want to but you can’t change that unless you come up here to Washington and change that," he said. "So, if we’ve got it, what is best for Arkansas? And over three-fourths of the legislature said let’s take advantage of something else and created the private option."
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, who chairs the NGA, said Tuesday’s meeting was productive.
"We appreciate him taking over an hour to meet with our executive team," she said.
Other governors at the meeting were Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Fallin also spoke in favor of a spending bill that Congress is expected to approve this week to fund the federal government through the 2014 fiscal year.
"I think it is important to have the omnibus bill pass," she said. "Uncertainty hurts momentum in our states."