In a rare public disagreement with his Republican successor, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe on Monday (Sept. 25) called the proposed Graham-Cassidy amendment to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act “a terrible bill” that would hurt the state’s economy and healthcare marketplace.
“Since 2013, Arkansas has provided more than 320,000 previously uninsured residents with affordable health-care coverage. We have led the country in reducing the percentage of uninsured residents. Our economy thrived as well. It played a significant role in the fact that, today, we have the lowest unemployment rate in our state’s history,” Beebe wrote in message sent by the Arkansas Democratic Party. “I am extremely disappointed that lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have come up with legislation that would take away the success we have built.”
Beebe’s message comes nearly a week after Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters he would fully support a first draft of the Graham-Cassidy bill he said was the “best and last opportunity” to replace the Affordable Care Act passed by former President Barack Obama.
“If it doesn’t pass, I think the Affordable Care Act is here in perpetuity. It is built into the fabric of our healthcare system, and I don’t see it changing. So this is our last chance,” Hutchinson said, following up this weekend with a Q&A to answer concerns about the bill.
Hutchinson’s explainer and Beebe’s rare public comments also followed an Avalere Health report last week suggesting Arkansas could lose as much as $6 billion in federal funding over the next seven years and another study from the Kaiser Family Foundation also suggested Arkansas would be negatively impacted by the measure.
A current draft of the Graham-Cassidy bill, which has no support from Senate Democrats and opposition from at least two GOP senators, would provide block grant federal funding to the states for Medicaid and would allow for many policy decisions such as pre-existing condition treatment to be made at the state level. It also rolls back key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, such as the individual and employer mandates and caps on premiums.
In his letter, Beebe credited Democrats and Republicans in Arkansas working together to expand Medicaid through a compromise that became known as the “Private Option.” That legislation was passed by the General Assembly in 2013 during Beebe’s tenure after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled states had the option of expanding their Medicaid populations.
“This type of compromise had never taken place before, and we required a 75% super majority in both state chambers in order to pass, a very high bar,” Beebe wrote. “Despite the challenges involved, we showed the rest of the country that, in Arkansas, we could come together and do what was best for our state and our citizens.”
After he left office, Beebe said, the Arkansas legislature once again stepped up to expand Medicaid under Hutchinson, “albeit with a new name ‘Arkansas Works.’” He said under his administration and Gov. Hutchinson’s tenure, Arkansas provided more than 320,000 previously uninsured residents with affordable health-care coverage.
In making his case for Arkansas Republican U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton to reject Graham-Cassidy, Beebe said Arkansas will save more than $1.1 billion in uncompensated care costs, and see a net positive impact of $438 million on the state budget.
“It’s a terrible bill for Arkansans. It would end Medicaid expansion in Arkansas,” Beebe wrote, adding that he felt obligated to speak out. “It would be devastating to our citizens and our economy. It would be the end of Arkansas Works.”
As of Monday, Republican lawmakers in the U.S. Senate were floating a second version of Graham-Cassidy in hopes of securing the necessary 50 votes to undo Obamacare by Sept. 30, the deadline for the GOP-led Senate to pass a repeal bill using the “budget reconciliation” process.