Gov. Asa Hutchinson took part in meetings Monday in Washington, DC that could be key for the future of his Arkansas Works Medicaid expansion plan.
First he met with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell as he seeks a needed waiver for the program, which is a successor to the state's Private Option. He then met with members of President-elect Donald Trump's transition team.
The meetings came on the same day that the governor's office announced creation of an Office of Transformation, which has a goal of finding ways to make state government more efficient and reduce costs. It will be headed by Amy Fecher, who currently serves as vice-president of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
Hutchinson spoke with KUAR about those topics during All Things Considered. You can hear the full interview above.
MICHAEL HIBBLEN: Governor, I know you're busy right now so I appreciate your time.
GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON: Sure.
HIBBLEN: First off, tell me about the establishment today of an Office of Transformation. What's the goal here?
HUTCHINSON: The Office of Transformation is an outgrowth of the recommendations from the Arkansas Policy Foundation that did a review of our efficiency efforts in state government; how we can better deliver services to the people of Arkansas utilizing technology and doing it more efficiently and saving taxpayers dollars. And so to really push some of those initiatives, I'm creating the Office of Transformation which is not a new bureaucracy. I've asked Amy Fecher who's at Economic Development to lead that effort. We're using existing resources. It'll be driven out of the governor's office with all the agencies of state government just trying to emphasize efficiencies and the proper delivery of services and seeing how we can better consolidate services to save the taxpayers money.
HIBBLEN: You're in Washington, DC and I understand you were to meet with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell today about the state obtaining a federal waiver for the Arkansas Works program. Has that meeting happened yet?
HUTCHINSON: I met with Secretary Burwell today. We continued the discussions about the waiver for Arkansas Works, which is really the reform efforts for our Medicaid population to put in work referral requirements, to put into place cost sharing, to hopefully get a control over the cost that the state has at risk on this program, and so I met with her. We have not finalized all of the elements of the waiver yet, we're continuing to work on it. Secretary Burwell has agreed to the cost sharing requirements, she has agreed to the worker training referrals as a requirement in it and we're still negotiating on the reform centered around the employer-sponsored insurance, to encourage employer insurance and not just the utilization of government insurance. So we've got some work to do there, but we're trying to drive that through, obviously before the end of the year when that current program ends.
HIBBLEN: Any idea when you'll hear something back on that or when you'll know more?
HUTCHINSON: Well, my team is up here continuing the discussions and so I can't predict how soon soon will be, but we're hopeful that we'll get this wrapped up quickly and there's just some differences of opinion. We want to go further in terms of our reform efforts than this administration is willing to go, so we've made it clear that if we don't get everything that we're going to come back to the next administration and reapply for the waiver that will give us the flexibility and reform that we need.
HIBBLEN: And finally, on the topic of the incoming President, President-elect Trump, you're set to meet with his transition team. Have details been finalized on that?
HUTCHINSON: I actually followed up my meeting with Secretary Burwell with the transition team focused on Health and Human Services and I brought them up to date as to where we are in Arkansas and our objectives of expanding access to care, but also really making sure that we can control the cost of it. It is... we have too many people on the Medicaid expansion and we need to control that number better and I presented them ideas as to what we're working on in Arkansas that will accomplish those objectives. It's a good balance between what we want to do in expanding access while at the same time controlling costs and making sure that there's cost sharing and it doesn't become an entitlement program, but that it's something that is a help to people as they're trying to move up the economic development ladder.
HIBBLEN: And did members of the transition team seem receptive to that?
HUTCHINSON: Well, they are. President-elect Trump has already announced that he wants to do more of a block grant effort with the states where they give them more flexibility, so that path is clear, but the transition team was more in the receiving mode as to what we're doing in Arkansas to help to shape the direction they go, but they're not going to be able to make any definitive decisions until (Health and Human Services) Secretary-designate (Tom) Price is confirmed by the Senate, and so it's early, but we wanted to be here early to get our voice heard.