Perception 

Last week, the Attorney General certified a ballot initiative to increase the Arkansas minimum wage from $6.25 to $8.50 over a three-year period. If polls are any indication, the group behind the worthy measure shouldn't have trouble gathering the necessary 62,000 signatures required to place the measure before voters this November — some 72 percent of respondents last summer said they believed raising the minimum wage was "just the right thing to do," according to the public employee union AFSCME.

When that same survey asked Arkansans if they would be more or less likely to support a candidate who voted for the Affordable Care Act, 55 percent said "less likely." It's not surprising that Arkansans who reflexively hate Obama also heap scorn on Obamacare. But a good number of those same red-tinted voters also support a minimum wage hike. Why?

Public suspicion about the ACA is not unreasonable, especially after the embarrassing caricature of flailing governmental incompetence that accompanied the Healthcare.gov rollout last fall. Although the problems with the federal site are now largely fixed, Obamacare remains an unproven program.

But the real fuel for conservative animosity, as evidenced by a safari into the comments section of any online article about the ACA, isn't about the functionality of the program. It's about handouts, or the idea thereof. It's the image of an outstretched palm (maybe a brown one) grasping for a slice of tax revenue. People don't like the idea of paying workers below a living wage for the same reason they don't like the idea of giving away health care: It insults their sense of justice.

Regardless of ideological affiliation, the majority of America feels deeply that the existing order of things is unfair, that labor and effort have come uncoupled from reward. There's consensus that the country is intolerably rigged in favor of those with power, but profound disagreement about who's winning and who's losing. The sense of frustration and injustice that generates support for a higher minimum wage comes from the same place as populist anger over "takers" who "live off the government."

In reality, of course, takers and workers are one and the same population. As with food stamps, the vast majority of the beneficiaries of ACA subsidies, including those eligible for nearly free coverage under the "private option" Medicaid expansion, do work. Many of them work two or three jobs at more than 50 hours per week and don't have a whisper of health coverage to show for it, relying on free clinics and the ER to address their inevitable medical needs. Many others work part time or are unemployed, because it's damn hard to find a decent job in this economy. But when conservatives visualize who's getting new access to basic health care, they don't see workers; they see takers.

To conservatives, this is about principle more than it is self-interest. Consider another question from the AFSCME survey last summer that asked voters whether raising the minimum wage would increase the cost of goods and services; almost 75 percent said yes (despite the fact that there's no evidence minimum wage hikes adversely affect economic growth). A majority of people think that a minimum wage hike might hurt them a bit, but a majority still thinks it's the right thing to do. Why? Because it seems fair.

Speaking of Affordable Care Act

  • Obamacare and the Mark Pryor-Tom Cotton Senate race

    August 21, 2014
    Yesterday, Sen. Mark Pryor did something that got national attention: he released an ad that actually took credit for the benefits of Obamacare. Cotton's response was surprisingly muted. Could this be the latest sign that the Obamacare attack doesn't pack the punch it once did? One key question of the Arkansas Senate race will be what is more politically potent, the name "Obamacare" (which Cotton will repeat while dodging policy specifics) or the law's more popular component parts (which Pryor is beginning to highlight while avoiding actually naming the law). /more/
  • Southern governors discuss efforts to contain health care costs

    August 17, 2014
    In addition to coverage expansion, there was much talk at the Southern Governors Conference on health care payment reform — Gov. Mike Beebe argued that while it has gotten less attention, the state's Payment Improvement Initiative is an equally important development in health care reform in the state. Beebe said he was "more convinced than ever that fee for service was an unsustainable model for the payment of health care in this country." /more/
  • Southern Governors Association talks private option

    August 16, 2014
    Gov. Mike Beebe, as well as governors from Maryland and Kentucky, discussed health care reform and the private option – the unique Arkansas version of Medicaid expansion – at a panel this morning at the Southern Governors Association meeting. Here are a few highlights, including the unique status of Arkansas and Kentucky, the possibility that the private option helped cut disability applications, and why Beebe thinks Arkansas got it right and Louisiana got it wrong. /more/
  • Beebe: minority of legislature won't run over majority to block private option in 2015

    August 16, 2014
    Gov. Mike Beebe hosted a panel this morning on the private option — the state's plan using Medicaid funds to purchase private health insurance for low-income Arkansans — at the Southern Governors Association meeting in downtown Little Rock. Beebe used the occasion to make a prediction — more bold, aggressive and blunt than we're accustomed to from Beebe, nearing the end of his term. The private option isn't going anywhere, Beebe said, because ultimately the overwhelming majority of the legislature supports it. /more/
  • Walmart expects to spend $500 million on employee health care this year

    August 15, 2014
    Walmart announced that it expects to spend around $500 million for domestic employee health-care costs, up from a previous estimate of $330 million. /more/
  • Nearly 200,000 Arkansans have gained health insurance coverage via the private option for Medicaid expansion

    August 8, 2014
    According to the latest information released by the Department of Human Services today, 192,210 Arkansans have gained coverage via the private option, the state's unique version of Medicaid expansion which uses Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance for low-income Arkansans. DHS also released the latest demographic information on beneficiaries. /more/
  • Five carriers will sell policies on Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace in 2015; all expected to sell statewide

    July 2, 2014
    The Arkansas Insurance Department today announced that five companies plan to sell health insurance plans on the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace in 2015, the second year for the regulated marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act. The issuers that have filed are Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, the national multi-state Blue Cross Blue Shield, Celtic Insurance Company (selling in Arkansas as Ambetter), and two companies owned by the parent company QualChoice Holdings: QualChoice Life and Health Insurance Company, Inc. and QCH Health Plan Inc. /more/
  • Picking apart the teachers' insurance "fix" just approved by the legislature

    July 2, 2014
    The crisis in the public school employee (PSE) insurance system is complicated. The politics behind it are complicated. The solutions just passed by the legislature to once again shore up the troubled fund — those are complicated, too. But the underlying reason behind the fund’s insolvency is simple: the public isn't paying enough for its share of PSE insurance. /more/
  • State-appropriated funding for Obamacare guides ends; outreach will depend on private funding

    July 1, 2014
    Today, the first day of the new fiscal year, marks the end of state-appropriated funding for more than 500 outreach workers known as In-Person Assistant (IPA) guides, charged with education, outreach, and enrollment help for the new insurance options available under the Affordable Care Act. The Arkansas Insurance Department has closed contracts with the 27 organizations tasked with hiring and overseeing 537 guides throughout the state. The change comes because of an amendment to the private option adopted in last year's fiscal session. In some cases, workers will be laid off and those guide positions will simply end; in other cases, organizations may seek private funding to continue the guides' work or may continue to employ the guides themselves, adding the positions within their own scope of work. /more/
  • Tom Cotton declines to take stance on state minimum wage and private option

    July 1, 2014
    At a press conference today, Rep. Tom Cotton declined to take positions on two big issues likely to get a lot of political attention in Arkansas in the coming months. He wouldn't say where he stood on the state minimum wage hike, saying he was going to focus on "what I can accomplish in Washington for Arkansas families" and continued to dodge questions about his stance on the private option. /more/
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