Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe defended Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s work requirement for Arkansas Works recipients, while former Gov. Mike Huckabee said President Clinton was more helpful when he needed something for Arkansas than President George W. Bush’s administration was.
The two spoke during a joint appearance celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement Monday (Dec. 3). Hutchinson spoke briefly at the beginning of the event.
Beebe defended the work requirement, saying Hutchinson needed to include it to maintain political support in the Legislature.
“While I might have tried to do it a different way, Gov. Hutchinson was faced with a pragmatic situation, and he needed to continue the program. And I applaud continuing the program. I’ve told him privately, and I’m here to tell you publicly, Gov. Hutchinson’s continuation of the private option under any other name is something we all ought to be very grateful for,” he said to applause.
“I think you have to be very careful and make sure that you don’t inadvertently drop worthy people out of the system when they need it, but I will acknowledge sometimes the pragmatic nature of getting 90% of a loaf is worth doing.”
The state is requiring some beneficiaries of Arkansas Works to work 80 hours a month, obtain an education or job training, or engage in community service activities. As of Nov. 15, 12,277 have been dropped from the rolls for failing to comply three months during a calendar year. The program provided health insurance for 245,552 people on Nov. 1.
Arkansas Works was created in 2013 while Beebe was governor. At the time, it was known as the private option. It uses mostly federal dollars under the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, to purchase private health insurance for lower-income individuals. The state obtained a waiver from the Obama administration to provide health insurance that way rather than simply expanding Medicaid.
Beebe recalled when the idea for the private option was first presented to him by Dr. Joe Thompson, then his surgeon general and now ACHI president and CEO, and others. At the time, he said, “I thought you were nuts.”
But he said that within the national political climate, it made the idea of expanding health care under Obamacare more palatable.
Beebe said different arguments could be used to persuade different legislators. That was helpful considering the Arkansas Constitution requires a three-fourths majority vote for appropriations bills.
“You can’t get three-fourths vote in the House and Senate for motherhood and apple pie, much less Obamacare,” he said.
Huckabee said during his first years in office, whenever Arkansas needed something, President Clinton was quick to respond, personally would return phone calls within half an hour and would push Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala to get things done. Clinton was a Democrat, Huckabee a Republican.
Huckabee said he did not have as much success during the administration of President George W. Bush, a fellow Republican.
He said Bush’s HHS secretaries were willing to be helpful.
“But every time we would hit either a political or some legal snag, and this is a great example of don’t always believe that the partisan nature of politics is as predictable as you would expect it to be,” Huckabee said.
He said, that while Clinton would tell the HHS secretary to take care of Arkansas’ need, “In all candor with the Bush administration, it was often that some 20-year-old had been sent to the agency to make decisions and to sort of safeguard the political kingdom.”
Beebe said that for him, Vice President Joe Biden was his go-to contact during President Obama’s administration.
While Huckabee was governor, Beebe was probably the most powerful state senator. The two reminisced about some of their experiences. Those included going to the voters to pass an initiated act to dedicate tobacco settlement funds for health programs when the House refused to do so.
The two also worked together to pass ARKids First, the state program that insures children from lower-income families. It was created under Huckabee, while Beebe was the chief Senate sponsor.
Huckabee said that ARKids First was a vertical issue, not a horizontal one. A horizontal issue is one that exists on the left-right, liberal-conservative spectrum. A vertical one is “up or down, better or worse, how are we going to make life better for the people in our state,” he said.
“Vertical issues can pass in a bipartisan way,” he said. “Horizontal issues often cannot. ARKids First became a truly vertical issue, and it’s hard for someone to argue that the people who were working, working hard, that their kids shouldn’t have some access to affordable health care, that if they just would quit their jobs and not work, they could have had a platinum-level Medicaid program.”