Concerned about ‘cost shifts’ in GOP healthcare reform bill, Hutchinson says

by Wesley Brown ( 230 views 

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday (May 10) expressed some concerns that the GOP-sponsored health care reform bill will shift some healthcare costs to states, but said Congress took “necessary action” last week to gut major parts of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act.

“They needed to pass it to turn the ball over to the Senate to take it from there. The Senate has indicated that they are going to write their own bill, and so the signal is that while the House took necessary action, that’s a beginning point and not an ending point,” Hutchinson told reporters.

However, Hutchinson said he has some trepidation about the House version approved May 4 that would remove tax penalties for those who don’t have insurance, reduce Medicaid expansion in some states, and eliminate government subsidies for insurance and replace them with tax credits.

“Obviously, I am concerned about the House bill that there is a cost shift to the states, and so I am anxious for the Senate to take a fresh look at this and I am sure they’ll make adjustments to it,” the governor said. “Regardless of what they do in Washington (D.C.), what we’ve done in Arkansas will complement what they want to do.”

Hutchinson continued: “And we want to be able to focus their attention on what direction we’re going because we believe it is a good balance for the nation in the sense of trying to cut the cost curve for the federal government as well as … state government and putting some requirements in there that makes the expanded healthcare coverage more doable over the long-term.”

In the three-day special session in Little Rock last week, lawmakers approved Hutchinson’s proposals to revamp the Arkansas Works program in order to reduce enrollment by 60,000 individuals. Arkansas Works is the state program that uses federal Medicaid dollars under the Affordable Care Act to purchase private health insurance for individuals with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level.

Legislation passed during the special session reduced that income target in Arkansas to 100% of the federal poverty level. Other Hutchinson backed bills requested a federal waiver from the Trump administration that would add a requirement for able-bodied recipients to work, be engaged in work training, or volunteer with a charitable organization. State welfare officials also plan to ask the Trump administration for a waiver to make Arkansas an “assessment state” rather than its current status as a “determination state,” meaning Arkansas rather than the federal government would determine eligibility.

Any congressional changes must make sense from a “financial standpoint and from the standpoint of improving healthcare for the citizens,” Hutchinson said.

The popular Republican governor also expressed some disappointment that Central Arkansas voters rejected a millage tax extension that would have allowed the Little Rock School District to build new schools in the west and southwest corners of the city.

“Of course, I supported the millage passage even though I didn’t have a vote,” said Hutchinson, who is registered to vote as a Benton County resident. “I thought it was important for the (Little Rock) district, and I thought it was important to achieve the goals that we need to turn it back to local control.”

But Hutchinson said he respected voters’ decision to turn back the millage extension in Tuesday’s election, which saw nearly 65% of total votes cast against the measure. The state’s largest school district has been under the control of the state Department of Education since January 2015, after the six Little Rock schools were deemed to be in academic distress.

“That’s what elections are about. The voters expressed themselves. They didn’t want to extend the millage and they didn’t want to have those improvements,” Hutchinson said. “I talked to (Little Rock Superintendent) Mike Poore today and told him; ‘keep after it and let’s concentrate on the children and … do everything we can to improve the performance of the three remaining schools.’”

Hutchinson said he wants to turn the school district back over local control, but said he had a responsibility to make sure Little Rock schools were educating students and performing as necessary. It will be up to State Education Director Johnny Key and his staff to determine the standards and goals necessary for the district to return to local control with a duly elected school board, he said.

“I want to see more families making choices and saying that we have confidence in the direction of the Little Rock School District and its future so that it can be competitive, you can have the strongest education performance and I thought he millage vote was important for that purpose, but there are other ways to accomplish that objective,” said the Arkansas governor.

Hutchinson also said he was encouraged that flooding in the southern region of the Delta is not as extensive as first predicted. Still, he said, “the crop lost is significant.”