Gov. Asa Hutchinson holds town hall on private option | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Gov. Asa Hutchinson holds town hall on private option

Posted By on Tue, Mar 22, 2016 at 6:18 PM

click to enlarge HUTCHINSON: Makes the case for continuing the private option.
  • HUTCHINSON: Makes the case for continuing the private option.

: I'll have more tomorrow, but the governor ran through the overview and list of arguments that are quite familiar at this point in the debate (although, as typically happens when he's making his pitch, there was very little on the human costs of kicking a quarter million poor Arkansans off of their health insurance).

Hutchinson has become more fluent and forceful in describing his positions on health care. I imagine he could whup any of the aginners in the legislature in a public debate. The governor approaches these lectures, complete with pie charts, like the old prosecutor that he is, proceeding methodically and logically through his points. He seems to operate with the conviction that if he just keeps reasoning with folks, they'll see that his conclusions are, well, reasonable. 

The trouble for Hutchinson is that a scattering of lawmakers in the Arkansas General Assembly don't give a damn. They are ideologues. They cannot be reasoned with. There is no deal to cut. They are so committed to eliminating health insurance for 267,000 low-income Arkansans that they are willing to shut down the government to make it so. If a tiny minority of just nine senators are willing to defund the entire Medicaid program to block the private option, the governor is going to need more than a pie chart. 

Hutchinson remains popular in the state and it's at least possible that he could change some hearts and minds in the public. Hard to say. But the real test is changing hearts and minds in the Arkansas Senate. Probably just two changed minds would suffice. The stakes: hundreds of millions of dollars for the state budget, billions of dollars in the state economy, billions more in uncompensated care for the state's hospitals, and health coverage for 267,000 human beings. 


Gov. Asa Hutchinson is holding a town hall this evening at 7 on the private option, the state's unique version of Medicaid expansion, at Central Baptist College in Conway. You can watch a livestream here; I'll update this post with commentary after it's over. 

Hutchinson proposes continuing the policy with a few alterations approved by the Obama administration, such as referrals to work training programs and small premiums for beneficiaries who make more than the poverty line (beneficiaries would owe a debt to the state but would not lose coverage if they failed to pay). The governor calls the revised version of the policy, which would keep the Obamacare-funded coverage expansion in place, "Arkansas Works."

The legislature will take up the private option in a special session in April. The governor should have no problem getting the simple majority he needs to pass the legislation to continue the policy. However, when the legislature convenes for a fiscal session late in the month, a rump group could hold up the entire Medicaid appropriation in order to block the private option unless Hutchinson can get 75 percent support in both the House and the Senate. That's considered a steep climb at this point so the governor is trying to rally public support to put political pressure on wobbly lawmakers. 

Support for special health care reporting made possible by the Arkansas Public Policy Panel.

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