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Rep. Westerman: "As large a gov't expansion as Arkansas has ever seen"

Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Hot Springs), the House Majority Leader, was one of the lead voices against the Medicaid private option expansion plan that passed just weeks ago.
Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Hot Springs), the House Majority Leader, was one of the lead voices against the Medicaid private option expansion plan that passed just weeks ago.

KNWA sat down with Westerman to talk about the plan and his reasons for why it's not the best way forward for Arkansas. He also addresses the possible fracture among members in the majority party over the controversial issue.

The transcript of our interview can be found below.

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J.R. Davis: The biggest thing to come out of the session was the private option deal. You were against it. Why? Simple.

Rep. Bruce Westerman: Well, I worked long and hard helping develop what eventually came out and was known as the private option. But, working through the details, I didn't think we had it figured out enough that I could support it by the end of the session. I think there are a lot of details that still needed to be worked out on it. I think there's still a lot of..."i"s to dot and "t"s to cross before we know what we've really got with the private option.

At the end of the day, it was still going to cost as much as the "do nothing" option -- or, for all practical purposes, as much -- and it was going to put more people on the government assistance program than if we did nothing. So, for those reasons, I just never could support pushing through with the private option.

JRD: So when you mean "it" [the do nothing option] would cost as much as the private option...what do you mean by that?

RBW: Well, not as much as the "do nothing", but it's just straight fee for service Medicaid expansion like the Obama administration had pushed for. The actuarial analysis showed that both of them were in the $20 to $21 billion cost over a 10 year period. Now they also projected some savings off of the private option that wouldn't be there under the fee for service Medicaid expansion. But the same actuarial analysis showed that the do-nothing option would cost somewhere around 2.7 billion over the tenure period, which I believe those numbers were probably higher than that, but there was a large gap between the overall total cost of the private option versus not expanding Medicaid in Arkansas.

JRD: So, that was basically -- if you could wrap it around one point -- that would be the biggest thing that you decided to pull back on at the end there?

RBW: Yea, the fact that it was going to cost more and the fact that we were growing government. As far as I know, that's about as large a government expansion as Arkansas has ever seen. True, doing nothing was going to add some more people to the rolls, but not as much it would with the private option.

JRD: Between Republicans in the legislature, there was a little bit of  [tension]. You, again, had a fiery speech on the day of the vote...where does the [Republican] party go now within the legislature? Is there any animosity on either side from the people you talk to? Or, do you say: "You know what? Here's what we have. Let's find out what the best thing to do with what we have now?"

RBW: Right, and, you know, it's always hard to argue with your friends, but those were some of my close friends that we were on the different sides of the policy. I made it clear to them that I didn't pick their policy position, they didn't pick mine, and I was going to fight hard for the policy position that I thought was best for the state.

So, the vote's been taken. It's over and done with now, so -- it's like you said -- it's time to pick up and move forward and try to make the best out of it.

JRD: You just talked about -- you worked so hard on what would later be known as the private option from the beginning. Do you wish you had more time on that? Do you wish -- what are some things -- obviously hindsight is 20/20, but is there anything you wish you would have done differently regarding the private option?

RBW: If you look at the whole Medicaid question, there were two components of it. You had the existing system that was broken and needed fixed -- and we did a lot of positive things to reform it and fix the existing system, of course the Medicaid expansion pretty much overshadowed all the good reforms we had. Otherwise, I think we had a very successful session. I would have liked to seen a little more tax cuts. Although we got some tax cuts that are extended out into future years, I think we could have cut more this year -- or this coming year -- but we passed some very good legislation.

We had a plan going into the session, and we pretty well followed that plan, and, I think -- aside from the Medicaid expansion, in my opinion -- we had a very successful session.
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