LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The governor wants Arkansans to know President Donald Trump's health care plan will not jeopardize the state's Medicaid expansion program.
Despite his and many others' initial reactions to President Trump's proposal, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the hundreds of thousands of Arkansans who depend on Arkansas Works can breathe a sigh of relief.
The governor held a pen and pad with reporters at his capitol office Tuesday morning to diffuse the panic surrounding the president's announcement last week.
"That's an understandable immediate reaction," Gov. Hutchinson said. "I want to make sure those that are in positions of influence understand that this does not impact adversely Arkansas Works. It can continue. With that, I think we just go back to the usual debates about what else is going to happen in Washington."
Hutchinson said Trump's plan will cause premiums to go up for the 300,000 who depend on Arkansas Works. However, the state will offset that increase by reducing the cost sharing payments controlled through the Medicaid budget.
Something hanging in the balance that could still affect Arkansas Works is the waiver the state applied for.
"We're counting on it being granted and we're prepared to quickly make the changes necessary to accomplish that Jan. 1," said Hutchinson.
The governor said he has not come up with a backup plan for Arkansas Works if the Trump administration decides to not grant the waiver.
Hutchinson said Trump's plan will, however, still force about 4,000 Arkansans' rates to go up. For that reason, the governor urges Congress to approve a plan that would appropriate money for federal cost-sharing subsidies.
"Until there is a replacement to the Affordable Care Act, we have to make what is presently the law work for Arkansas," Hutchinson said. "That's an important piece of the puzzle."
During the pen and pad, Hutchinson also made it clear he will "vigorously oppose" any plan that taps into the general revenue stream as Arkansas lawmakers and the highway department work on funding proposals for the state's roads.
The governor said doing so would create a hole in the state's budget that would take away money from education, public safety and more.
The highway commission voted in June to green light a funding measure on next year's ballot but hasn't decided what that will look like.
Hutchinson currently wouldn't say if he would also "vigorously oppose" raising taxes or fees to address the long-term needs.
"Where I'm drawing a line is if you're going to have any kind of tax increase or a fee increase or a diesel tax increase for highways then that ought to go to the voters to decide," said Hutchinson. "Any time you are dealing with highways and how to fund highways, the right place to go is to voters of this state who have proven time and time again that they will support a highway initiative if it is properly laid out and has proper controls in place. They know where the money is going to be spent and are convinced of the need."
The highway department also released a survey Tuesday morning asking for citizens' input on improvements and how to fund them.
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