Outgoing Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said Monday he's cautiously optimistic that the state will keep its compromise Medicaid expansion, warning that abandoning the program could be "politically disastrous" for its opponents.
The two-term Democrat, who leaves office next month due to term limits, said he believes there's a path forward for reauthorizing the state's "private option." More than 213,000 people are enrolled in the program, which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for the poor.
Beebe said opponents of the program would likely face the wrath of voters, including those who would lose coverage or who are affected by hospitals he says would be harmed by abandoning the program.
"It would be bad public policy in my opinion to do away with it and it would be politically disastrous for a lot of those people if they do away with it," Beebe said in an interview in his office at the state Capitol. "After all, they're political animals. They did run for office, and most of them do want to continue in office."
The private option was crafted as an alternative to the Medicaid expansion envisioned under the federal health law. Beebe's successor, Republican Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson, hasn't said whether he backs reauthorizing the program and several private option opponents were elected to the Legislature in November.
Continuing the private option will require three-fourths support of the House and Senate. Beebe said he thinks most people don't realize how difficult it is to cross that threshold, especially on such a controversial issue.
Beebe said he believed Hutchinson would ultimately support reauthorizing the program, but said the governor-elect hasn't indicated in their conversations what he plans to do. Hutchinson has said he'll announce by late January whether he supports keeping the private option alive.
"I think he's smart, and I think he's pragmatic," Beebe said.
Healthcare has been a major focus of Beebe's time in office, even though it wasn't an issue he focused on during his successful 2006 campaign. When asked to name a policy he believed he would be remembered for years after leaving office, he cited the state's effort to change the way private insurers and Medicaid pay for services.
The initiative moves away from a fee-for-service model to one where insurers pay for "episodes" of care rather than each individual treatment.
"It's a sea change in the way we pay for health care that rewards both efficiency and quality and cuts down costs," Beebe said.