Arkansas lawmakers advance hybrid Medicaid expansion

Gov. Asa Hutchinson called the debate over Arkansas' hybrid Medicaid expansion a "watershed" moment on Wednesday, as lawmakers advanced his plan to keep and rework the program that provides subsidized health coverage to more than 250,000 people.

The House and Senate are set to take up legislation Thursday outlining the Republican's proposal to keep the hybrid expansion after the plan easily cleared two committees at the start of a special session. The program uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for the poor and was created three years ago as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law.

"This is one of those moments in history where your decision will impact our communities, our economy, our balanced budget, our health care system and most importantly the lives of thousands of real people that reside in each of your districts," Hutchinson told lawmakers.

Hutchinson ran for governor two years ago promising to fight President Barack Obama and his policies, including the health overhaul, but ducked saying what he'd do with the state's hybrid expansion that was already covering thousands of people. He's called for adding new restrictions to the program, including charging premiums for some, and warns that ending the expanded coverage would create a budget deficit of at least $100 million.

But he faces opposition from fellow Republicans who control the Legislature, with critics accusing the governor of embracing the health law he's called for repealing. Opponents also said they didn't believe the state or federal government could afford the expanded coverage.

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