Lawmakers got their first taste of Medicaid Wednesday, along with a push to expand the program.
Human Services Director John Selig told the Senate Public Health Committee Medicaid is the elephant in the room, an overwhelming state issue that's become impossible to ignore.
Medicaid is the largest program in the state, and makes up 80 percent of the DHS budget says Selig, but far more streamlined than most.
"Although medicaid is a big program, compared to other states, it's fairly lean," Selig said.
The director says Medicaid growth has slowed to its lowest rate in 25 years, and several programs facing extinction may be spared.
"We're pretty certain the nursing home program we won't have to eliminate," Selig said. "Our hope is some of the others we won't have to, also."
But Selig says there's nothing the program can do to help hundreds of thousands of Arkansans without health care.
"You just have to be dirt poor if you're an adult, and disabled, to get any help from medicaid," Selig said. "And then you have to be a parent. If you're single, you're just out of luck."
Selig says expansion would extend coverage from children and seniors, to 250,000 Arkansans (aged 19-64) who make less than $22,000 a year.
"That's part of my role, to convince them (lawmakers) that expansion makes sense and that we can afford it," Selig said.
There's no question lawmakers have some tough decisions to make, but now the elephant is finally in the open.