Arkansas’ House delegation votes for budget in first step to Obamacare repeal

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 406 views 

Arkansas’ four members of the House of Representatives voted with their Republican majority Friday for a 2017 budget resolution that paves the way for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

Voting for the resolution were 1st District Rep. Rick Crawford, Jonesboro; 2nd District Rep. French Hill, Little Rock; 3rd District Rep. Steve Womack, Rogers; and 4th District Rep. Bruce Westerman, Hot Springs.

The 227-198 vote along party lines occurred the day after the Senate passed its own budget resolution that would lead to the Affordable Care Act’s demise, 51-48. Both of Arkansas’ senators, Sen. Tom Cotton (R) and Sen. John Boozman (R), voted with the majority.

On the House floor Friday morning, Womack said he hears daily from his constituents that Obamacare is raising health care costs and creating uncertainty. He said the health law’s mandates and regulations are hurting industry and stifling businesses. He said Superior Linen Service, which has offices in Springdale, Van Buren and Maumelle, was providing health insurance to its employees and was able to manage its health benefits in house before the Affordable Care Act. After the act’s passage, it had to outsource management of its health benefits at a cost of $100,000 a year.

Hill is a co-sponsor of the American Health Care Reform Act of 2017, which would repeal Obamacare and go into effect Jan. 1, 2018. The bill creates a standard $7,500 tax deduction for individuals with health insurance along with a $20,500 deduction for families. It also would expand federal support for state high-risk pools for Americans with pre-existing conditions, while capping premiums at 200% of the state’s average premiums. It also would allow insurance to be sold across state lines while allowing small businesses to create pools to negotiate for better rates.

He released a statement Friday saying, “As Speaker Ryan and President-elect Trump have stated, we will not repeal Obamacare without a viable replacement. Today, we set the path to move forward with an open and transparent process to repeal Obamacare and replace it with more workable, patient-centered ideas. Working with a new Health and Human Services secretary, Congress can fix what Obamacare broke, while ensuring low-income Americans and those with pre-existing conditions have not only health insurance coverage, but have more choices over their health care providers and improved access to health care as well.”

Westerman released a statement saying, “Obamacare has proven to be a failed policy that is doing more harm than good to the American people. The vote today is the first step in dismantling a tangled web of policies that has reduced overall healthcare options while raising costs. If we do nothing, the federal deficit will continue to rise, as will healthcare costs. There is a better approach to healthcare for the American people and it begins with a repeal of Obamacare followed by an open process to debate and overhaul healthcare policy that prioritizes the health needs and fiscal stability of Americans.”

The votes by the Senate and the House were not unexpected, but the timing of the repeal is uncertain. While Democrats are united in protecting the law, Republicans are divided into two camps – those who favor an immediate repeal with a replacement to come later, and those who argue that Republicans must present a replacement at about the same time the ACA is repealed.

Proponents of the second tactic include President-elect Donald Trump and Cotton. In an interview with Talk Business, Cotton said he could vote for replacement pieces that occur “in relatively short order” after repeal.

“What we should not do is wait until 2018 or 2019 to try to reach a solution,” he said. “Health care is a very complicated problem. It’s been made worse by Obamacare. We’re not going to find the answer any easier a year or two years from now.”

Among the issues to be decided would be what happens to the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of the Medicaid population. Instead of simply expanding Medicaid, Arkansas created the private option, now known as Arkansas Works, which uses federal Medicaid dollars to purchase private health insurance for recipients with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level. The program now covers about 300,000 Arkansans.

On Jan. 10, Gov. Asa Hutchinson along with Allen Kerr, the state’s insurance commissioner, wrote the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives asking for states to have more freedom and flexibility in managing Medicaid. He wrote that the state would be prepared to adjust to a repeal within 90 days. His spokesman, J.R. Davis, said Hutchinson was referring to the law being repealed and replaced.

Arkansas Department of Human Services Director Cindy Gillespie said Friday that DHS has been preparing for the possibility that the federal government would change funding for Arkansas Works. In fact, it is legally required to do so under state law.