LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said Monday he'll decide before next year's legislative session whether to expand Medicaid under the federal health care overhaul that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last week, but said he's inclined to move forward with the plan.
Beebe said he has questions about the impact and cost of widening the program's eligibility in Arkansas, and that he's asked state human services officials for answers about those concerns. The high court on Thursday upheld most of President Barack Obama's law, but the justices said the federal government could not take away states' existing federal Medicaid dollars if they refused to widen eligibility.
Beebe said he's leaning toward supporting the expansion, which state Human Services officials say will add about 250,000 people to the state's Medicaid rolls.
"It'd take a pretty dang strong argument for me to say no to those people when we have the opportunity to pay for it with taxes that are coming from and money coming from the federal government that the whole United States is paying for anyway," Beebe told reporters at a news conference at the state Capitol. "I don't want to send it to Massachusetts or California and ignore our own people."
The federal government agreed to pay the full tab for the Medicaid expansion when it begins in 2014. But after three years, states must pay a gradually increasing share that tops out at 10 percent of the cost.
Beebe, a Democrat who has said he wouldn't have voted for the health care law, said the decision won't have anything to do with the November presidential election. Beebe said he'll decide on the expansion before the Legislature convenes for its session in January.
"Obama and Romney can do whatever Obama and Romney are doing, Congress can do whatever Congress is doing, but we're going to take care of Arkansas to the best of our ability," Beebe said.
Some Republican governors and lawmakers in other states have said they won't expand Medicaid. Republican legislators in Arkansas have said they're opposed to moving forward with the expansion.
State Republicans have said they plan on making the Medicaid expansion a central theme of their campaign to win control of the state Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, saying the ruling makes the health care law even more of a state-level issue.
GOP lawmakers said they're also worried that the expansion would only add to a shortfall in the state's Medicaid program that's projected to be up to $400 million next year.
"We already have a massive shortfall with the system we have. We cannot afford what we're doing," said state Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison. "It would be very short sighted to sign up for a program that expands what you already can't afford because it's already paid for and 'free' for the first three years but eventually becomes a massive cost to the state."
Andrew DeMillo can be reached at www.twitter.com/ademillo