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Lawmakers describe ‘wild’ week

Lawmakers representing Logan County in the current fiscal session of the General Assembly were quick to label last week as “wild” after the Senate passed and the House failed four times to pass the so-called private option.

Both State Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, and State Rep. Jon Eubanks, R-Paris, don’t think it’ll get any less wild this week. The fiscal session resumed Tuesday and the House was expected to take up the private option for a fifth time.

Eubanks, who has twice voted for the controversial measure, said the atmosphere in the House last week was “tense, intense and the level is increasing.

“Tempers are short for some people,” he said “but it’s not a majority.”

Stubblefield describes the week as “wild,” adding “it’s also been very tense and very high pressure.” He also said “there are a lot of fear tactics going on,” declining to be specific.

The private option is Arkansas’ program, approved last year, to use federal Medicaid money to pay for people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level to obtain insurance through the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace. About 102,000 Arkansans have been found eligible for the program, but if funding for the coming fiscal year is not renewed the program would have to be scrapped.

The Senate took up the private option Thursday and passed it. Stubblefield voted no. Despite that, Stubblefield believes the measure will eventually pass the House. “That’s just a personal opinion,” he said.

Eubanks also thinks the measure will eventually pass the House.

“I’d say it has a reasonably good chance, but it’s going to be close,” he said.

Eubanks, who also voted for the measure last year, said he supports it because private companies are offering the insurance and can be more cost-effective than the government and healthy workers are more productive employees.

But until something definitive is done in the House, both lawmakers expect the intense lobbying to continue.

“Both sides have people making phone calls and sending e-mails,” Eubanks said. “Mine have been pretty equal on both sides of the issue.”

Eubanks also said he’s heard rumors of deals being made.

“I don’t think that’s the way we should do business,” Eubanks said.

Eubanks added that he’s not been offered any deals and would refuse if offered one.

And if the measure doesn’t make it through the House? Both lawmakers said the governor has the option of calling a special session before the program expires on June 30.