‘Do all you can’

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 97 views 

Never let it be said that Mike Beebe was a “lame duck” governor in his final term as the state’s chief. Just not true.

This past week, standing in front of the Northwest Arkansas Council, a group of the region’s power brokers, he delivered a stirring and engaging speech on the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and how it relates to Arkansas’ Medicaid program.

Gov. Beebe’s oratorical skills were as sharp as if he was in full blown campaign mode. And maybe he was.

He punctuated his speech with facts and figures on how defeat of the state’s “Private Option” plan for Medicaid could have spelled devastation for area hospitals and businesses. Beebe left no stone unturned in this coalition of businesses, which at times have been supportive of the option in concept, but are growing skiddish as the 2014 elections approach. A group has formed to attempt a voter rejection of the Private Option plan, and Republican and Democratic legislators who voted for the plan may face solid re-election opposition.

He gave out a firm directive to the NWA Council members, as he left the stage.

“Do all you can,” Beebe said as he encouraged the council members to back the private option plan.

The Governor spoke at the annual mid-year gathering of the NWA Council, when the new chairman was named, Mark Simmons of the Siloam Springs-based poultry company Simmons Foods. Retiring chair, John Tyson of Tyson Foods, stepped down following the meeting.

There are few industries a harder sell on the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, than the poultry folks. But Gov. Beebe’s talk was laced with buzz words that have worked wonders on this often stubborn Republican led Legislature.

“Do all you can.”

Walking away from the Private Option would have perpetuated what Beebe calls “a hidden tax on those who do have insurance,” as the uninsured flood the state’s hospitals and clinics for care. It was walking a fine line for Beebe, sitting in front of some of the most successful and rich people in Arkansas, and talking about the poorest of the poor and their inability to pay for even basic medical services.

But walk that line he did. His head held high. His eyes scanning the crowd looking for those shaking their heads in disagreement or disbelief.

“Do all you can.”

Few of those overt signs of losing his audience were observed in his short, but succinct talk. But even an old stump style speaker like Beebe knows amid all the applause and smiles, especially in conservative Northwest Arkansas, there are those, even among this politically powerful group, who disagree.

So the governor stuck to his main talking points, which allow those with up to 138% of the federal poverty level to be eligible to enroll in private insurance plans through an exchange and have the premiums paid by Medicaid. That income threshold is (pause, as Beebe is want to do in making his deliver as he speaks – wait  for it – wait for it) $15,860 for an individual.

And the governor goes off script to add this phrase.

“That’s $15,860 earned working ALL of last year.”

The level of poverty and coverage rises to $32,500 for a family of four. Beebe always slows down, making audience members do the family math. That’s an Arkansas family, Dad, mom and two kids. Or most likely a single mom and three kids. Quickly Beebe says to his audience that’s an estimated 250,000 Arkansans who currently have no insurance coverage.

“Do all you can.”

He spoke of the local hospitals which would have taken on this ever-increasing debt load of care for the poor and uninsured. Some hospitals are on the brink of closing. So are some small business and clinics.

“Do all you can.”

And then in closing Gov. Beebe delivers the knock out punch. He asked the gathered minds, those of powerful influence in the region and the state, to look past all the rhetoric and use their individual and collective powers to persuade and cajole legislators and other elected officials to support the measure.

“Do all you can.”