News & Events

Week in Review: Arkansas Legislature Meets for Special Session

The Arkansas Senate and House of Representatives convened Monday morning to officially adjourn sine die the Regular Session of the 91st General Assembly. One hour later, the legislature held a joint session to hear remarks from Governor Hutchinson as he called a special session to address the state’s Medicaid expansion program.

The list of items on the special session call included a waiver request for changes to Arkansas Works, additional legislative oversight of the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace, creating a long-term reserve fund, and technical corrections to ethics laws and medical marijuana laws passed in the 2017 Regular Session. Only 11 bills were filed during the special session, most of which were companion bills filed in both the House and the Senate.

Governor Hutchinson asked the legislature to approve changes to Arkansas Works, which is the state program that uses federal Medicaid dollars through the Affordable Care Act to purchase private health insurance for individuals with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level.

SB3 and its companion bill in the House, HB1003, requires DHS to submit a state plan seeking a federal waiver to amend the benefits of the Arkansas Works program by establishing a work requirement and reducing income-based eligibility. Governor Hutchinson is requesting that the income eligibility standard be equal to or less than 100% of the federal poverty level. The bill passed the House by a vote of 71-23, and 23-9 in the Senate.

Once the waiver amendments are approved, DHS will promulgate rules between August and November, and the new program requirements will go into effect January 1, 2018.

The most controversial piece of legislation filed during the First Extraordinary Session of 2017 was the creation of a long-term reserve fund to boost the state’s credit rating.  SB5 and its companion bill in the House, HB1005, transfers the balance of the Arkansas Healthy Century Trust Fund to the Long Term Reserve Fund. SB5 and HB1005 transfers $105 million from the Arkansas Health Century Trust Fund to a newly created Long-Term Reserve Fund.

After failing to pass out of the Joint Budget Committee, the bill was amended to change the spending requirement authority from a simple majority of the Arkansas Legislative Council to a 2/3 majority of the Arkansas Legislative Council. After the change, the House of Representatives approved SB5 by a vote of 70-24.

On Thursday, Governor Hutchinson signed into law the legislation allowing the state to seek federal approval for the new restrictions to the Arkansas Works Medicaid expansion program. The governor also signed into law the other bills passed during the special session that ended Wednesday, including the proposal to transfer more than $100 million in unused tobacco settlement money to a long-term reserve fund.


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