Governor wants block grants in Obamacare repeal

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 303 views 

Gov. Asa Hutchinson would like the House Republicans’ proposed Obamacare “repeal and replace” plan to offer more flexibility for states through Medicaid block grants, but the bill does not alter his proposed changes to the state’s Arkansas Works program.

Hutchinson made his remarks during a press conference to announce Courtney Pledger as the new executive director of the Arkansas Educational Television Network Tuesday.

On Monday, U.S. House Republicans introduced the American Health Care Act, their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The bill would end the mandate to buy health insurance and replace it with tax credits that would encourage Americans to purchase it. The bill would base Medicaid funding on each state’s enrollments and costs. It would freeze the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid benefits in 2020 and then phase it out while also providing more than $100 billion in state grants over a decade.

Hutchinson on Monday announced his administration is seeking waiver amendments from the Trump administration allowing the state to impose work requirements for beneficiaries of Arkansas Works. That’s the program that uses federal Medicaid dollars through the Affordable Care Act to purchase private health insurance for lower-income Arkansans. The amendments also would limit benefits to Arkansans with incomes up to 100% of the federal poverty level. Those benefits currently are available to individuals with incomes up to 138%.

Hutchinson said the announcement of the American Health Care Act does not change the state’s efforts to seek the waiver. He said his office is still reviewing the details of the bill but that he would prefer more flexibility for states through block grants.

“My initial reaction is that we should remind ourselves that it’s a long process. The Senate has to weigh into it, and so the first announcement is not always the end result,” he said.

He said he had briefed the state’s congressional delegation on the waiver request and received a good response.

In other business, Hutchinson described as “a good step forward” House Bill 1727 by Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, which would allow voters to approve wholesale taxes on gasoline and diesel to pay for highway construction and maintenance. He said he has always said any additional highway taxes must come as a result of the vote of the people.

Hutchinson also reiterated his opposition to legislation related to use of bathrooms by transgender individuals. Senate Bill 774 by Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, R-Pocahontas, would limit use of bathrooms in government facilities to members of one gender based on their gender at the time of birth. He said the bill is not necessary, particularly in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Monday to return a transgender case back to a Virginia lower court.

Pledger, the former executive director of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, will lead AETN as it celebrates its 50th anniversary. She was chosen unanimously by the AETN Commission. She replaces Allen Weatherly, who died last year.

“I believe that AETN tells the story of Arkansas in ways that no one else can. … We’re going to be very busy making programs in Arkansas about Arkansas,” she said.

In response to a question, Hutchinson said he has no plans to reduce funding for AETN.

“Our balanced budget we presented has continued funding and support for AETN,” he said. “There’s not any reduction in my balanced budget. There’s no plans in that regard.”