Arkansas congressman calls for tapping Medicaid to fund Highway Trust Fund

Arkansas Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, introduced legislation that calls for transferring monies from Medicaid to fund the beleaguered Highway Trust Fund.

Called the Prioritizing American Roads and Jobs Act, Westerman told TI News Daily in a written statement his plan would free up more than $15 billion per year in mandatory spending that is going only to three out of five states that expanded Medicaid.

The bill has been assigned to the House Committee on Energy & Commerce. “I'm working hard to gain support and a hearing on the bill,” he said.

Westerman said his plan could save $300 billion over 10 years. Roughly one half could be used to build and fix roads in all 50 states while the rest could be used to reduce the national budget deficit.

So far, reactions have been mixed. “Those who are concerned about continuing the incentive premium in Obamacare to promote Medicaid expansion are generally opposed to the bill and those who believe that highway funding is a higher priority than paying a premium health incentive for able body adults generally are supportive of the measure,” Westerman said.

The bill would change Medicaid expansion match rates established under Obamacare and paid by the federal government from a current rate of 100 percent to traditional Medicaid match rates. For example, in Arkansas, the traditional Medicaid federal match rate is 70 percent, while the state picks up the remaining 30 percent, according to Westerman.

While the White House has not issued a statement on the bill, Westerman said President Obama has previously expressed support for reducing Medicaid expansion dollars being sent to the states.

Westerman was inspired to craft the bill due to the numerous short-term extensions Congress has passed to keep federal transportation dollars flowing to states through the Highway Trust Fund, instead of finding a long-term solution to funding the nation’s roads and bridges.

“This has occurred numerous times by the last several Congresses and my bill is an attempt to stop the delays. Roads must be paved, construction workers must continue to work, and states need certainty before either of those things can happen. This bill fully funds the trust fund and makes sure projects stay on track without raising taxes,” he said.

The congressman said if the measure passes, it would benefit the citizens of his home state, Arkansas.

“Arkansans will see numerous projects that have been halted start up again. This means needed maintenance will move forward without delay, needed roadway expansion will continue, and the men and women who work on our highways will continue to receive a paycheck. This bill is about what is best for Arkansas and what is best for American infrastructure.”

The president signed off on the Highway Trust Fund patch May 29 to continue funding transportation through July 31.