Private Option Debate Concerns Local Clinic

Springdale - Local healthcare providers are watching the stalemate over funding for Arkansas' Private Option, and they don't want uncertainty in the capitol to discourage people from seeking healthcare coverage.

The private option uses federal funding for Medicaid expansion to buy private health plans for people under the poverty line. Tyler Clark of Springdale's Community Clinic says the plan is working.

"You've got people who, for the first time, are able to get a flu shot, or maybe get a women's health exam," Clark says. "It's not about Obamacare. It's not about whether we accept federal dollars or not, but understanding of what is at stake here for people."

After three years of prepping for the Affordable Care Act, Clark says it's frustrating to see the fight over funding.

"Helping people get access to healthcare, that's what it should be about, not politics," Clark says. "At the same time, it's a process. It's a social norm change so it takes time to make those adjustments."

Without the federal help, Arkansas Insurance Department Commissioner Jay Bradford says the state won't have a way to pay for the coverage starting on July 1. Bradford says the patients could continue to pay on their own, but most of the people who qualify for the private option can't afford the cost. He says about 150,000 people who recently gained coverage, or are about to will have to go without if lawmakers vote down the bill.

Clark says the final result is unclear, but killing the private option would have far reaching effects.

"There's going to be a lot of confusion, a lot of misunderstanding," Clark says. "You may have a lot of people cancel appointments, because they won't be able to afford  to see their doctor."

He's confident state representatives will eventually pass the bill, and in the meantime, the clinic will continue its mission.

"The troubling part of the debate in Little Rock is that people may be apprehensive, to sign up in fear that it's just going to waste their time," he says "We're here no matter what... We know that people having access to health insurance is important to the state and to this community."

District 88 Representative Randy Alexander of Fayetteville says he can't support the private option, because he thinks the federal dollars will eventually dry up. The program is fully funded for three years, but after six, the state will pick up ten percent of the bill.

"It's obvious to me Obamacare is not financially sustainable," he says. "At some point, things like this will be cut... the program will go broke and we'll be on the hook for it."

Alexander says he doesn't know what the final fix is, but says the state can find a better plan. He is looking into Concierge medicine, where patients pay a retainer fee rather than insurance. He says the practice, combined with catastrophic coverage plans, might provide better healthcare at a lower cost to the state.

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