by Max Brantley
The Senate convened at 8 a.m. today to discuss the legislation to take advantage of federal Medicaid expansion through a so-called private option system of moving eligible people from conventional Medicaid to coverage under the new private insurance offered by health exchanges. At 9:30 a.m., they're still talking.
Lindsey Millar, who's covering the discussion, reports that most of the questions seem to be coming from Democratic senators. The Republican majority ultimately will call the shots.
UPDATE FROM LM: One of the most hotly debated issues of the General Assembly failed to elicit any contentious questions or testimony this morning. Most of the questions came from Democrats.
The key architects of the legislation, Republican Sens. Jonathan Dismang and David Sanders, hit familiar talking points when speaking for the bill: They were doing their best with a bad situation (Sanders: “This is not the greatest thing since sliced bread”). The cost of doing nothing, particularly in the long term, is greater than the private option. The federal debt is a concern, but as Dismang said, “what’s inside this bill is the right direction for us to move forward with health care in Arkansas.”
No one used the word “Obamacare” all morning.
The measure was approved by the Senate 24-9. The enabling legislation needs only a simple majority, but the appropriation to follow will need 3/4ths support, or 27 votes. This vote was seen as a barometer of support. Can Dismang, Sanders et al pick up three voters next time around?
CORRECTION: We got the not-voting members wrong originally. Here's how it went:
NAYS (all Republicans): Bledsoe, A. Clark, J. English, J. Hendren, Hester, J. Hutchinson, Irvin, G. Stubblefield, E. Williams
NOT VOTING (both Republicans): King, Rapert.
There are some potential turnovers in there. Irvin, for example, has made some positive remarks in recent days. Insiders say the Senate definitely will produce the necessary 27 votes. The House is up in the air and will remain so until the very last, most likely.