A special legislative session leaves questions about pharmacy benefits, public schools | Arkansas Blog

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A special legislative session leaves questions about pharmacy benefits, public schools

Posted By on Sat, Mar 17, 2018 at 8:41 AM

click to enlarge THE END OF THE BEGINNING: Gov. Asa Hutchinson signs pharmacy benefits legislation. There are some indications that further problems lie ahead.
  • THE END OF THE BEGINNING: Gov. Asa Hutchinson signs pharmacy benefits legislation. There are some indications that further problems lie ahead.
The special legislative session was three days of sound and money that signified not much, as I've written before, but stay tuned.

The primary reason for the session — legislation to regulate pharmacy benefits managers so as to force higher reimbursements to pharmacists on drugs paid by Medicaid — seems likely to have produced further conflict.

For one thing, the legislation makes references to licensed pharmacy benefits managers. None of them are licensed. They are third-party administrators, a different status. Is that equivalent? I'm not able to judge.

But, and this seems bigger to me, the pharmacy managers still stand by legal assessments before the session that this legislation is unconstitutional for "broad and unprecedented" oversight of the managers despite a bar to state controls under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

I'll leave it to the lawyers, but we perhaps haven't heard the last of this.

An even bigger issue that drew little attention is the state's continuing retreat from the Arkasas Supreme Court Lakeview decision mandating equal and adequate education.

No, it's not just the fact that the special session of the legislature approved a historic subsidy for private schools through a backdoor voucher bill that will take more than $5 million a year out of the general revenue stream, about half of which goes to public schools. That money will go directly to private schools. Don't believe the sophistry from legislative leaders who try to characterize it otherwise. It is the first step on a dangerus slope to full school vouchers.

The legislature at its fiscal session cut in half the percentage increasein spending the legislative staff said was necessary to meet the Lakeview sufficiency standards — giving a 1 percent increase when indicators said 2.4 percent, worth millions more, was necessary. It turned down aid for special ed kids. It turned down putting more money in pre-K. It turned down putting more money in after-school programs. It did give private school parents tax money.

The governor also diverted more than $60 million that could have gone to education and prisons and other critical needs to a "rainy day" fund to build a cushion for future tax increases and also to slide $15 million or so in general revenue to the Highway Department, already enjoying a general revenue sales tax. When general revenue pays for highways, once the responsbility of users, it doesn't pay for schools. Or prisons. Or State Police. Or health services.

We are creeping slowly toward the place Kansas and, more recently, Oklahoma find themselves. At the free lunch counter with no food for school kids. But if Asa has his way, we'll have a huge tax cut, too, and that, he says, will make people flock here.

Didn't work in Kansas or Oklahoma.

But, hey, you can't stop believing in fact-free America. Make Arkansas Great Again. Tax rates will be more important than quality schools in attracting high-quality businesses. And if our under-funded, underperforming schools are not enough, we have other attractions. We restrict women's rights, discriminate against LGBT people, endorse guns in schools, courthouses and bars and believe in whipping 17-year-olds to teach them how to behave. And don't forget our reverence for hog and chicken shit and air pollution. What's not to love?

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