Congress should take a cue from Arkansas’s Medicaid expansion freeze

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By a vote of 55 to 32, the Arkansas House voted yesterday to pass HB1465. The bill, sponsored by Republican State Rep. Josh Miller, would require the Department of Human Services to ask the Trump administration for an enrollment freeze in the state’s out-of-control Medicaid expansion program. No existing enrollees would be removed but no new applications would be accepted. The bill provides what could be a blueprint for lawmakers in D.C. who are looking for options to unwind ObamaCare.

HB1465 flew through the Arkansas House Public Health & Welfare committee earlier this week by a vote of 13-6, even garnering the support of some previous Medicaid expansion supporters, including Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Wardlaw. Wardlaw, who voted for the initial expansion in 2013, was a Democrat at the time, but switched parties last November, just weeks after the election.

{mosads}And Wardlaw is not alone. Yesterday, on the floor of the House, multiple members of both parties who have previously supported Medicaid expansion voted in favor of Miller’s commonsense proposal. Many of them voted for the original expansion proposal back in 2013.


The progression of HB1465 through the legislature is demonstrative of the political realignment happening not just in Arkansas but in expansion states across the country.

As enrollment continues to explode and states begin to feel the real impact of this broken program on their economies and their budgets, politicians who have supported Medicaid expansion can no longer ignore its disastrous impact. The days of “free money” are over.

Now states are looking for ways out and Arkansas, where costs and enrollment overruns have been particularly bad, is a prime example.

While state officials said “only” 225,000 non-disabled adults would ever qualify for the program – and only 215,000 of those adults would actually enroll – as of this week, roughly 331,000 non-disabled adults are enrolled, putting Arkansas close to 60 percent over their original enrollment projections.

As a result, taxpayers are stuck holding the bag and limited resources are being diverted away from those who truly need help – Arkansans like Skylar Overman, who has spent nearly her entire life on the state’s Medicaid waiting list, waiting for needed care, and has moved nearly 100 spots down the waiting list since expansion was adopted. An enrollment freeze would begin to make truly needy Arkansans like Skylar a priority once again.

Even outside of the borders of the Natural State, consensus is building around an ObamaCare enrollment freeze.

Just days after news of Miller’s bill began to circulate in D.C., Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), vice chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health (which oversees the Medicaid program) told reporters an expansion enrollment freeze is on the table. Days later, the freeze earned a tacit endorsement from the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

Now, after HB1465 passes the state senate, Arkansas will become the first state to make a formal push for an ObamaCare Medicaid expansion freeze. And with newly-confirmed Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price now in place, they’re likely to get it.

Arkansas got it wrong when they decided to expand Medicaid through ObamaCare. Their specific approach, which thankfully did not spread to other states, has cost taxpayers nearly twice as much as traditional Medicaid expansion would have.

But as Arkansas looks to tap the brakes on their out-of-control program and protect the truly needy, they are becoming a true model for the nation.

Nic Horton (@nhhorton) is a senior research fellow for the Foundation for Government Accountability.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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