This debate of ObamaCare in Arkansas just continues to get stranger by the day. I sum up the events over the past couple of weeks in my column for Stephen Media. In short, Gov. Beebe asked for and was denied a permission slip by the minority party (yeah, I said minority party) to apply for a $3.8 million grant for planning and implementing the state level health insurance exchange.
Yesterday, the person President Obama has put in charge of implementing his federal health care overhaul – Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius – was in Little Rock chiding state Republicans for not going along with Arkansas Democrats on ObamaCare.
“It’s interesting to me that people who are anxious not to have the federal government intrude into state business are the first to say, ‘Well, we’re not going to do it at the state level’ and hand it back to us,” Sebelius told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Of course, this is the same argument Gov. Beebe and other Democrats have tried to argue. Coordinated – you think?
Let’s take a look at what Sebelius is actually saying. It is obvious that the majority of Arkansans do not support ObamaCare. Even most of the Democrats working to become one of the first states to implement it (only 16 states have applied for the grants Beebe wants to apply for) almost always begin their comments with a disclaimer that they may not be for it BUT…
Despite this, Sebelius is telling Arkansas that we can either choose to comply with the law and set up the state level health exchanges ourselves or we will come in and force it on you. The carrot is millions of dollars in grants that the state gets to spend, and the stick is the threat by the feds to do it themselves. The push to get it implemented is obviously a strategy to get the organizational structure entrenched as quickly as possible. Once a government program is up and running, it is almost impossible to repeal.
What has not been explained is how a state exchange would be different from a federal exchange. Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford was questioned on this by Republican legislators and could only point out that it would be "run by Arkansans," but he offered no substantive differences. The federal legislation has numerous rules and regulations that give little flexibility in how it actually looks. As best I can tell, the main difference would be that the people at the call center would have an Arkansan accent instead of a D.C. accent. That’s all well and good, but I don’t know if it is the strongest argument for Arkansas to be an early implementer of a program that is overwhelmingly opposed.
Obviously, Republicans are not wanting to give additional authority back to the federal government but it is naive to assert that the federal government will not have a huge expansion of their authority under ObamaCare whether the exchanges are set up by the state or the feds. Their rules and regulations are the same either way.
Obama can send all the top guns into Arkansas that he wants to wag their fingers at Republicans. I don’t think this will phase them.