Sen. Eddie Joe Williams faces challenge from private option foe R.D. Hopper, who is confused about health care policy | Arkansas Blog

Sen. Eddie Joe Williams faces challenge from private option foe R.D. Hopper, who is confused about health care policy


WILLIAMS: The incumbent is trying to hold on to his seat against a challenger attacking his vote on the private option.
  • WILLIAMS: The incumbent is trying to hold on to his seat against a challenger attacking his vote on the private option.
Mike Wickline has a nice report in this morning's paper on the race between Sen. Eddie Joe Williams and challenger R.D. Hopper, a Lonoke County Justice of the Peace,  one of three state senate races where the private option looms large. 

The private option has enormous policy stakes and the political heat is always high because of its connection to Obamacare. It's no surprise that it's a big issue in state legislative races. But what typically happens in these races is that the challenger sees a political opportunity in opposing the private option, but actually knows absolutely nothing about health care policy. One memorable example of this is Scott Flippo. His entire race for state Senate in 2014 was based on opposition to the private option. However, when given straightforward questions about the program, he proved embarrassingly uninformed. Flippo nevertheless prevailed. 

The same is true of Hopper, who makes the very same mistake that Flippo made: 

Hopper said he opposes the private option and Arkansas Works because “it is all a form of Obamacare."

“It does three things I am against. It grows the government. It increases people’s dependency on government, and it spends [federal] money we don’t have,” he said. “I would vote to repeal the private option, and those people on the private option would be eligible to get their Obamacare through the federal exchange.”

Nope. Only people who make more than the federal poverty level are eligible for the subsidized exchange, a group that makes up only a sliver of those currently covered by the private option. More than 200,000 Arkansans would fall into a coverage gap — they would have their health insurance stripped away and would not be eligible to purchase subsidized health insurance on the Obamacare exchange. This is precisely the same mistake that Flippo made. If you're going to make health care the key issue in your campaign, you ought to educate yourself on the basics. Hopper, like Flippo, doesn't know a single thing about health care policy other than that he doesn't like Obamacare. It's pathetic. But who knows, that may be enough. 

Williams told Wickline that he was "totally shocked" that Hopper wants to move PO beneficiaries to the subsidized Obamacare exchange. Again, what Hopper is suggesting is a policy impossibility, a way of avoiding dealing with the actual consequences of killing the PO: taking health insurance away from hundreds of thousands of the state's citizens and leaving them with no affordable options. Unfortunately, Williams said he was shocked because Hopper's suggestion would ... expand Obamacare. I could try to unpack this, but I think the simplest thing to say here is that Williams managed to come up with something even more incoherent and nonsensical than Hopper. 

More convincingly, Williams told Wickline that killing the PO would blow a hole in the budget: 

Williams said he voted to authorize the use of federal funds for the private option because he has to decide financial needs of the state — for example, whether the state is going to give tax breaks or continue to provide state funds to help finance the construction and renovation of public schools.

“We can’t suck three-quarters of a billion dollars out of the economy every year [in Arkansas through the federal health care law] and expect to continue doing the things that we want to do in this state” without tapping the federal funds for the private option to help hospitals and doctors assist low-income Arkansans, Williams said.

Indeed, the stakes for general revenue will become crystal clear when the governor releases two budgets — one with the PO and one without. Even PO skeptics have been clear that ending the private option will cause major immediate budget pain. The governor has made clear that his $750 million plan for highways (which comes with $2 billion in federal matching funds) is dependent on the continuation of the PO, and the positive revenue impact of the PO creates more wiggle room in the budget for tax cuts, higher ed, etc. This is why Williams supports the policy despite his free-floating hatred of Obamacare. If either of these guys starts trying to talk about policy details, though, you might as well plug your ears. 

Conduit for Action and their shadowy collection of various PACs and other entities is targeting Williams in this race. Conduit, funded by Joe Maynard, a Fayetteville businessman seemingly obsessed with opposition to the private option and controlling the Senate, is also targeting Sen. Jane English (being challenged by PO foe Rep. Donnie Copeland) as well as the race in District 7, where pro-PO Rep. Lance Eads is facing off against Sharon Lloyd, an aspiring aginner. That seat was made vacant by outgoing Sen. Jon Woods, a PO backer and a frequent target of Conduit's ire. 

As I mentioned yesterday in my post on PO-related challenges in northwest Arkansas, none of these races will have any bearing on the special session in April, when the current legislature will convene to decide the fate of Arkansas Works, the governor's tweaked version of the private option. But these races have symbolic power. If aginners can pick off a few incumbents, that could spook wobbly Republicans on the fence about the private option come April. 

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

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