by Max Brantley
The Arkansas House is now meeting as a committee of the whole to hear the pitch for taking federal Medicaid expansion money, but by moving more people into private health insurance, rather than through the conventional government-overseen Medicaid program.
Republican Rep. John Burris lauded the approach as making Arkansas a "laboratory for democracy," to improve on the federal health care legislation. He said the current system is a disincentive to work because it encourages people to seek disability or not to earn enough to lose Medicaid coverage.
He said he remained concerned about the long-term "insolvency" of government-supported health care, but said the private exchanges are more readily "reformable" than conventional Medicaid, which he said would continue to exist for the aged and disabled. If the targets on the program aren't met in three years, it ends, he said.
Burris said opponents shouldn't believe that "doing nothing means nothing happens." If the legislature doesn't act, 30,000 to 40,000 more people will newly qualify for conventional Medicaid; another large number of the working poor will qualify for subsidized private coverage and the additional coverage comes with no reforms in the existing program of the sort he and others are pushing. He repeated several times that a billion-dollar-plus impact was facing Arkansas regardless of whether the legislature acts.
Arkansas will have "chaos and instability" if it doesn't enact the "private option," Burris said. He insisted it would "mitigate harmful effects" of the federal Affordable Care Act and called it the embodiment of "entitlement reforms" conservatives have long worked to achieve.
The House recessed the discussion after more than two hours of questions.