Remembering the stakes in the debate over the Arkansas private option | Arkansas Blog

Friday, February 21, 2014

Remembering the stakes in the debate over the Arkansas private option

Posted By on Fri, Feb 21, 2014 at 9:09 AM

Ellen Louise Fant of Alexander shows off her private insurance card, eligible via the private option. - PHIL GALEWITZ/KAISER HEALTH NEWS
  • Ellen Louise Fant of Alexander shows off her private insurance card, eligible via the private option.
Amid all the shouting and the political maneuvering, it's worth taking a step back from time to time.

The question in front of the Arkansas General Assembly is whether to continue the private option — the state's plan to use federal Medicaid funds to purchase private health-insurance plans for low-income Arkansans — or to end just as it gets off the ground. The question in front of the Arkansas General Assembly is whether to continue the health coverage gained by 100,000 citizens or to take it away. 

That is a political question, and a moral question. A question with enormous stakes not just for the 100,000 Arkansans who have already gained coverage, but another 100,000 or so more who are eligible. 

People like Melissa Farrell and Charles Lott and Claudia Reynolds-LeBlanc and Rick Wells

People like Wendy Phillips, from Searcy. People like Jennifer Trader, from Springdale. People like Sherri Thomas, from Walnut Ridge. People like Hope Smith, from Jonesboro. 

People like Ellen Louise Fant 

People like Anita Geiger and Amber Chote

The private option injects billions of dollars into the state's economy, gives a needed boost to hospitals in dire need and saves the state budget more than $600 million on net over the next decade. Saying no would mean less federal spending, but it's worth putting that in context — if Arkansas says no, it would amount to a 0.0008 percent dent in the national debt, less than a rounding error. The notion that Arkansas's decision will make a difference in what Sen. Jim Hendren's grandchildren pay in income taxes is, to say the least, implausible. Meanwhile, the state will absorb a hit of more than one billion dollars per year in new federal taxes and reductions in Medicare reimbursement rates. This is the money the feds are using to pay for Obamacare, and Arkansas will be paying in no matter what. Ending the private option just means the state passes on the federal money that offsets those costs, resulting in economic pain for Arkansas.

If you've been reading this blog, you know all of this. We've said it all, and more, before. We have, as House Speaker Davy Carter put it, "talked about this until we're blue in the face." 

The politics get messy and the policy details get complicated. But there are some simple questions at the core this debate.

Is the state prepared to pull the plug on health coverage for Melissa and Charles and Claudia and Rick and Wendy and Jennnifer and Sherri and Hope and Ellen and Anita and Amber? And 100,000 more?

Will Arkansas take care of its neediest citizens, or as Rep. John Hutchison (voting against the private option) put it this week, "leave them out in the cold"? Will we take care of our own? 

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