LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Gov. Mike Beebe urged skeptical Republicans to not sacrifice Arkansas' share of federal dollars by rejecting an expansion of its Medicaid program, saying in his final "state of the state" address Tuesday that doing so would jeopardize the health of their neighbors back home.
The GOP controls the Arkansas House and Senate for the first time since Reconstruction and legislative leaders have refused to embrace an expansion of the Medicaid program under the new federal health care plan. Beebe supports the move, saying it would save the state money by cutting down the costs Arkansas hospitals face for treating patients without insurance.
"We balance our budgets and we don't need to sacrifice our share of federal money to other states," Beebe said. "Refusing money to help our people may make a statement to the federal government, but it will cost us more at home and jeopardize the health of our fellow Arkansans and won't solve the problems of our national counterparts."
State budget officials had projected a $138 million shortfall in Medicaid funding in the next fiscal year but Beebe said Tuesday that the number is now "more manageable." Initially, the figures suggested the state may have to cut spending for some nursing homes.
"It appears we will avoid the most painful of these cuts, including the Level 3 nursing home care provided to thousands of elderly Arkansans. Those of you who provided leadership in the House and the Senate, together with our office, are of one mind that the last thing we'll ever do is throw folks out of nursing homes," Beebe said.
In a 26-minute address to a joint session of the Legislature, the governor also asked for its help to land a major economic development project. He called it "one of the biggest" the state has ever seen, but released no details.
The governor said that under the current health care system, all Arkansans are already spending part of their pay on benefits for others, whether they realize it or not.
"We have the opportunity before us to ease that pressure for both our hospitals and ourselves," Beebe said. "If you already have private health insurance, you're paying a tax that was never approved by any government or by our citizens. It's the hidden tax of uncompensated care."
Republicans hold 21 of the 35 seats in the Senate and 51 of the 100 seats in the House. A three-fourths majority is needed to expand Medicaid.
Beebe said he expected to have a good working relationship with the Republican-led Legislature, noting that former President Bill Clinton was able to balance the federal budget when the GOP controlled both chambers of Congress in the 1990s.
"We must resolve to not let Washington's animosity seep in and poison our well of civil discourse. Arkansas cannot change the way things are done in D.C., but we can continue to set the example of how men and women with different views can still come together in the best interest of our citizens," the governor said.