The Affordable Care Act was passed into law with the promise that it would make insurance affordable. Because of bipartisan leadership in Arkansas, we continue to strive to achieve that goal. While rhetoric abounds, it is important to understand the Arkansas experience.
Arkansas has an exemplary record of bipartisan efforts to make the Affordable Care Act work for us. With Arkansas Works, there are over 300,000 Arkansans who have insurance today who wouldn't have insurance otherwise. We have increased access to health care in our rural areas at unprecedented rates and have ensured that our local community hospitals can stay open and available to deliver quality health care. Before expanding coverage, Arkansas hospitals had to bear much of the costs associated with caring for uninsured patients. In the first year of implementation, Arkansas hospitals saw a 55 percent, or $149 million, reduction in uncompensated care losses from treating uninsured patients. Also, emergency room visits for uninsured patients decreased by almost 49 percent. This means hospitals are being paid for their services, which is great for the economy — and it means that Arkansans are getting better care without putting their families into bankruptcy.
I recognize that there may be individuals who are still finding health insurance unaffordable, but overall Arkansas is leading the nation in working toward delivering on the promise of affordable, accessible health care.
You may hear that premiums have skyrocketed; Arkansas's average has been less than 10 percent. You will also hear about plans with very high deductibles. Plans with high deductibles have always been the cheapest plans, even before Obamacare. That doesn't mean that those are the only affordable plans. The exchange in Arkansas offers a wide variety of deductibles and affordable plans.
It has also been said that many families face a massive tax penalty because they can't afford the increasing cost of care. That's hyperbolic. It is true that penalties can be assessed, but massive is not a descriptor I would use. The penalty is established at 2.5 percent of income and, even then, many taxpayers can qualify for a health coverage exemption.
The states that are experiencing the most difficulty with the Affordable Care Act are those states that have not embraced the law and have not taken steps to adopt and adapt the requirements to their own needs. Arkansas has been a leader in doing this.
I implore our congressional delegation to not penalize the 300,000 Arkansans who will be hurt by the repeal of the ACA or by the Graham-Cassidy amendment to it. I ask them to use Arkansas's experience as a roadmap to make the ACA better for all.
Sens. Tom Cotton and John Boozman, it is important to me, and I believe to most Arkansans, that when you are faced with tough decisions that you act to benefit Arkansans first. Secondly, it is important to me, and again I believe to most Arkansans, that you are transparent with the deliberations going on in D.C. I respectfully ask that before you take a vote on anything as important to all of us as our health care, that you take the time to review the bill with us back here in Arkansas and give us an opportunity to provide you with our feedback.
The bottom line is that the Graham-Cassidy amendment to the ACA means that over 300,000 Arkansans in the Arkansas Works program will lose access to health care. Many more Arkansans will be priced out of insurance as we revert to the bad old days. Gone will be protections against insurers holding pre-existing conditions against patients. Our rural health providers will lose the stability essential to their survival. Bankruptcies will increase for families and health providers. And the overall cost of health care will rise for almost everyone.
I plan to call our senators every day to see where they stand in protecting Arkansans. Please join me and call Sen. Tom Cotton at 202-224-2353 and Sen. John Boozman at 202-224-4843. Your health and the health of your family, friends and neighbors depend on it.
Linda Tyler is a former state legislator and director of human resources for Targetsmart Communications LLC.