Utah officials are keeping a close eye on Arkansas as they consider whether to expand Medicaid in the state. The Utah Department of Health held an informational conference call Thursday with Arkansas’ Medicaid Director Andy Allison. Members of Utah’s Medicaid Expansion community workgroup see promise in Arkansas’ unique model. It gives eligible low-income residents Medicaid expansion dollars to buy private health insurance.
“If Utah were to expand Medicaid, I think it’s most likely we would do something similar to what Arkansas is pursuing,” says Utah Senator Todd Weiler, a member of the community workgroup charged with exploring the state’s options on Medicaid expansion. He is generally wary about the idea of increasing public assistance in the state, but he says Arkansas’ private option could work for Utah. “From what I know, I think it would be a better fit than just a carte blanche expansion like some other states have done.”
“I think it fits Utah. It’s private market. It gives folks private insurance and greater access to a wider area of providers,” says Matt Slonaker, Medicaid Policy Director for Utah Health Policy Project – a consumer advocacy organization which has consistently supported Medicaid expansion. “I think Senator Weiler is on the mark in that we should be pursuing Utah-specific alternatives, and this is something we should really, seriously consider.” Slonaker warns, though, that Utah is different from Arkansas because it uses a managed care model. He says the plan would have to be adapted significantly and include consumer protections.
Arkansas will give the US Department of Health and Human Services a detailed proposal this summer, and the federal response is expected by October – when open enrollment begins.