Asa Hutchinson, right, is applauded by his wife Susan and others as early vote totals are announced inLittle Rock, Ark., Tuesday, May 20, 2014.
Danny Johnston/AP Photo

Arkansas reluctant to give up on Medicaid benefits

When the Affordable Care Act was first approved, the law’s Republican critics made a series of predictions about failure and catastrophe. Just about every one of those predictions turned out to be wrong.
 
But in fairness, there is one thing GOP officials said that turned out to be correct. The right argued – it was more a fear than a predication – that once “Obamacare” was in place, and American families and consumers came to rely on the system’s benefits, it would be awfully difficult, if not impossible, for Republicans to simply take those benefits away. And five years later, that sounds about right.
 
In Arkansas, for example, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), soon after taking office earlier this year, had to decide whether to scrap the state’s Medicaid-expansion policy. The Republican was vague on the issue during his 2014 campaign, but in January, Hutchinson announced he wanted to see the policy remain in place, at least for a while, to prevent public suffering.
 
Yesterday, as the Arkansas News reported, the governor suggested he’s prepared to make the policy permanent.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday he is open to continuing to accept federal funding for Medicaid expansion if the federal government grants the state increased flexibility in shaping its health-care programs.
 
“As governor, I will accept the continued expansion dollars from the federal government if we can achieve the (Medicaid) waivers that are needed,” Hutchinson told a joint meeting of the Health Reform Legislative Task Force and the Governor’s Advisory Council on Medicaid Reform.
In fairness, the governor has a whole bunch of ideas about how to make the policy as conservative as possible, but there’s no getting around the fact that Hutchinson has no interest in scrapping Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion.
 
“We’re a compassionate state. We’re not going to leave 220,000 without some recourse, without some access to care,” he said.
 
Exactly. That’s the point.
 
Arkansas may be a ruby-red state now – President Obama lost the state by 24 points in his re-election bid – and the word “Obamacare” probably polls horribly. But on a national level, few states need the ACA as desperately as Arkansas, and even fewer have benefited more from the reform law.
 
Just this month, Gallup showed the states with the largest drop in the uninsured rate. Arkansas was #1.
 
Hutchinson’s proposed changes certainly matter, and they’ll be the subject of an important debate. But the broader point remains the same: “We’re not going to leave 220,000 without some recourse, without some access to care.”
 
Republicans everywhere, take note. There’s a big difference between GOP policymakers telling the public, “We hate the president, so your family will no longer have access to basic medical care,” and actually going through with it.
 

Affordable Care Act, Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, Health Care, Medicaid and Obamacare

Arkansas reluctant to give up on Medicaid benefits