LITTLE ROCK — A legislative task force voted Monday to endorse Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s plan for continuing Medicaid expansion in the state but deadlocked on his plan to let private companies manage parts of the Medicaid program for high-cost populations.

LITTLE ROCK — A legislative task force voted Monday to endorse Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s plan for continuing Medicaid expansion in the state but deadlocked on his plan to let private companies manage parts of the Medicaid program for high-cost populations.


Also Monday, the Health Reform Legislative Task Force heard from consultants hired by the panel who said ending Medicaid expansion could cost the state $757 million between 2017 and 2021.


The panel voted 10-2 to recommend that the state Legislature consider Hutchinson’s plan for the program, now known as the private option.


The program uses federal Medicaid money to subsidize private health insurance for Arkansans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, an alternative to the expansion of Medicaid rolls that was envisioned in the Affordable Care Act. The program is set to end at the end of this year.


Hutchinson has said he will call a special session next month to ask lawmakers to consider his plan for replacing the private option with a program called Arkansas Works, which would add features including work referrals for able-bodied, unemployed recipients; premiums and co-pays for recipients earning more than 100 percent of the federal poverty level; and a mandate that recipients obtain employer-based insurance where available.


Voting to endorse the governor’s plan Monday were Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe; Sens. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, Jason Rapert, R-Conway, David Sanders, R-Little Rock, and John Cooper, R-Jonesboro; and Reps. Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith, Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna, Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville; Kim Hammer, R-Benton, and Joe Farrer, R-Austin.


Voting against endorsing Arkansas Works were Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, and Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway.


The vote came after a motion by Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, to consider the issue of managed care before voting on Arkansas Works failed. Chesterfield then abstained from voting on Arkansas Works.


Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, and Rep. Deborah Ferguson, D-West Memphis, also abstained, saying later they did so because Chesterfield’s motion failed.


Rep. Michelle Gray, R-Melbourne, said she abstained from voting on Arkansas Works because she is undecided. Although she campaigned against the Affordable Care Act and the private option when running for office, she said she now sees the state program from a new perspective.


"I decided to abstain because as we’ve worked through this process I’m now able to see both sides of the issue, something that I was not able to see when I was campaigning. I now understand the fiscal impacts that it has," she said.


David Ray, Arkansas director of the conservative group Americans For Prosperity, issued a statement Monday criticizing the panel’s vote.


"Supporting Medicaid expansion means adding billions of dollars to our national debt, making more Arkansans dependent on a federal entitlement program, and robbing future taxpayers who will have to foot the bill for this unsustainable program," Ray said.


The governor’s managed-care proposal failed to receive the nine votes needed to win an endorsement, as did an alternative plan by a group of task force members. The latter plan, called DiamondCare, calls for expanding and enhancing the patient-centered medical home model — in which a patient’s treatment is coordinated by a primary care physician — for the traditional Medicaid population.


Consultants with The Stephen Group told the Health Reform Legislative Task Force that if the state were to end the private option and not replace it with any form of Medicaid expansion, state spending would increase by $213 million and state tax revenues would decrease by $544 million over the next five years, for a total cost of $757 million.


They said their latest estimate is higher than previous figures because of new information showing per-persons costs are lower than expected.


"We have two quarters of additional experience with the programmatic savings," consultant Stephen Palmer said.