Expansion of Medicaid — that is, providing better health care for more poor people — is exactly the sort of thing that Winthrop Rockefeller espoused in the late 1960s, when he was Arkansas's first Republican governor since Reconstruction. Today's Republican majority in the state legislature is cool to such generosity if not coldly resistant. In the case of the Arkansas Republican Party, bigger is definitely not better.
Probably the kindest thing one can say about the Republicans opposed to Medicaid expansion is that they are not just being cruel because they hate poor people. No, they hate the Democratic president who won passage of the Affordable Care Act too. And he's not poor. Give them that.
Gov. Mike Beebe is leading the effort to extend Medicaid to over 200,000 low-income Arkansans. He'll need all his powers of persuasion, which are considerable.
Expansion of Medicaid will, Beebe has pointed out, provide health care to people not covered elsewhere in the law, reduce uncompensated care, and protect hospitals that will experience cuts to Medicare reimbursement rates whether or not Arkansas chooses to expand Medicare. And all this will be accomplished with federal, not state, money. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost of new enrollees until 2017. Then the state's share will gradually increase to 10 percent by 2020.
Beebe told the legislature last week, "Without help, some of our hospitals in Arkansas, particularly rural hospitals, could be forced to close. This would be devastating to our small towns ... Expanding Medicaid will create additional private-sector jobs. We just have to say yes."
For well-intentioned legislators, that should not be difficult.