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Gov, GOP: Medicaid compromise possible in Ark.

Andrew Demillo, Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe and legislative leaders said Tuesday they believe a compromise is still possible on expanding Medicaid in Arkansas, despite the Obama administration telling states they can't do a partial expansion and still receive full federal funding.

GOP leaders, who will control the Legislature next year, have generally opposed the expansion but have left open the possibility of a deal that would allow for some reforms to the program. They also have suggested the idea of a partial expansion as an option.

The federal health care law calls for the federal government to pay the full tab for the Medicaid expansion when it begins in 2014. After three years, states must pay a gradually increasing share that tops out at 10 percent of the cost. The U.S. Supreme Court in June upheld the health care law, but justices said the federal government could not take away states' existing federal Medicaid dollars if states refused to widen eligibility.

The expansion would add 250,000 people to Arkansas' Medicaid program. GOP leaders had floated the idea of a partial expansion, but federal officials said Monday that states that do a partial expansion wouldn't get the three years of full federal funding provided under the law.

Beebe, a Democrat who supports the program's expansion, said Tuesday that that removes one option for compromise, but he believes there are others.

"I think reasoning together, people of good will, trying to figure out how to help Arkansas and do the right thing, there are always opportunities to sit down and reason together," Beebe said.

Any solution must involve Republicans, who won control of the state Legislature in last month's election. Expanding Medicaid would require a three-fourths vote in the state House and Senate.

Incoming Senate President Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, said he also believes it's possible to find a compromise and he doesn't think a partial expansion would be completely off the table if there was bipartisan agreement.

"I want us to see if we can come up with an agreement despite what they said yesterday," Lamoureux said.

Beebe, however, warned that lawmakers shouldn't expect the federal government to change its position.

"I think you have to play the hand that's dealt to you, and right now it's not in the cards," Beebe said.

Incoming House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, said the federal government has at least given the Legislature some clarity on its options.

"I'm glad we know," Carter said. "Now we can rule that out and focus on the options that do remain."

Republicans have floated the possibility of Medicaid reforms, including co-pays and drug testing for some recipients — which they say will help keep costs down — in exchange for an expansion or partial expansion. GOP leaders also have said they want to address a shortfall in Arkansas' Medicaid program that has prompted state officials to propose service cuts before talking about any expansion.

Beebe has asked the federal government for a "global waiver" that would give the state more flexibility on how it uses federal Medicaid funds but cap its spending over the next eight years, a move that could allow for some of the reforms sought by Republicans.


Andrew DeMillo can be reached at www.twitter.com/ademillo