The politics of ‘AsaCare’

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 102 views 

The long awaited speech by Gov. Asa Hutchinson on his health care plans for the state “surprised many people,” said state Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, one of the few surviving Northwest Arkansas Democrats in the 90th General Assembly.

“But the people it surprised the most, I think, were some members of his own party,” Leding said with a slight grin while speaking at the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce Legislative Forum on Friday (Jan. 23) afternoon.

None of the other three legislators, Sen. Uvalde Lindsey, D-Fayetteville, and Reps. David Whitaker, D-Fayetteville, and Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, doubted Leding’s remark.

Nor did I. In fact, broad smiles and all heads nodding in agreement were witnessed by those watching the speaker’s table.

Collins, who labeled himself a “staunch supporter” of the Private Option under former Gov. Mike Beebe, called the new governor’s plan, “AsaCare.” That made Lindsey, Whitaker and Leding and many others in the crowd suppress a slight snicker.

The new governor asked for the Affordable Care Act in Arkansas, known previously as the Private Option, to be carried forward through 2016. That is when federal rules give individual states an option to opt out of the federal health care initiative with their own designed health plans or states can stay in the federal programs.

At one point in the hour-long discussion, Lindsey said the first two weeks of the 90th General Assembly were full of “sweetness and light.” But not all area state lawmakers were happy with the governor’s proposed stance on state health care programs. Some privately complained that Hutchinson didn’t give those who campaigned for office vowing to vote against the Private Option any “political cover.” Now it could be hard for a GOP legislator to cast a ‘no’ vote. A few of the lawmakers who consistently voted against the Private Option said Hutchinson “didn’t really give them a reason to change their stance.”

Others like state Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, who had opposed the Private Option, will now vote for Hutchinson’s plan. State Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren, who has been a consistent critic of the Private Option and Obama Care, said it will be hard to oppose Hutchinson.

“It will be much harder to oppose a Governor of my own party. Now I know how some of the Democrats felt with Beebe,” she said.

The new Governor was rather coy on the campaign trail about his thoughts on the state’s own hybrid of Obama Care, called the Private Option. In a signature speech on Thursday, delivered at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Campus, the state’s largest medical facility and teaching campus, Hutchinson stressed the need for a task force to be gathered. He also surprised many with his charge to develop an “alternative health coverage model.” Other adjectives that made Hutchinson’s speech awe inspiring were his concern for “vulnerable populations,” with the state. He also said the assembled task force needs not only to cover those who needs assistance with critical medical care, but “modernize the entire Medicaid program.”

Looks like the new governor, while often sniped at during the campaign, got the message. He will not toss 212,000 Arkansans off health care rolls. Hutchinson, while mum, seemingly got the message during the campaign and transition: The Private Option needed to remain, at least for now.

Several dozen scattered political partisan Facebook and social medial posts on Friday were still deeply critical of Hutchinson. Most of the posts were shrill, almost to the point of calling for frenzied attempts to derail any plans to continue the Arkansas Private Option.

Hutchinson, in his speech, did not deny there will be some changes coming. Perhaps, Hutchinson, whose been known to have the long-view on issues, sees a Republican re-taking the White House? Or can it possibly be more major changes in the Medicaid laws that occur between now and 2017? All we do know is that Hutchinson will find himself in the midst of his first four-year term in 2016, while the Presidential candidates battle it out.

What will some of the new freshmen state Senators and House members who campaigned vowing to vote “No” on the private option do when the vote comes to the floor? Many don’t think the freshmen Legislators are organized enough to make more than a noisy buzz on the crucial vote to take place in a few weeks.

Best political bets are that Hutchinson administration has the votes on the Private Option to pass it – and to pass it swiftly by three-fourths needed in both chambers. He will do that by simply converting those who were against the Private Option under a Democratic governor. Now that there is a Republican in the executive corner office, it’s hard to say ‘no’ to him. It often worked that way for Beebe.

Somehow legislators tend, even in bitter disputes, to listen to the governor.