Governor Asa Hutchinson has constantly pressured state legislators to keep Arkansas an Obamacare Medicaid Expansion state. In a special session in 2016, Governor Hutchinson passed an extension of Obamacare Medicaid Expansion under a new name – “Arkansas Works.” (Previously, Arkansas called the Obamacare program “Private Option.”)
Only a year ago, most Republicans walked in lock step with the Governor and Democrats to continue the program. Then, last week the Arkansas House of Representatives reversed course by passing HB1465 by Representative Josh Miller to freeze enrollment in the Obamacare program. The freeze would still allow anyone enrolled in the program to continue to be covered by the program.
House approval of HB1465 is an amazing transformation and a victory for conservatives. Several factors appear to have played into this monumental vote:
- The Trump Train! In supporting the Governor in 2015 and 2016, several Republicans broke their campaign promises to end Obamacare Medicaid Expansion. Continuing to break those promises has become harder, because of Arkansans support of President Donald Trump and his promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. In voting for the freeze, some legislators are looking for cover, as they see the approach of the next Republican primary.
- Likelihood of much higher costs in the future. A leaked draft of federal legislation shows Arkansas’s matching costs would quadruple over the current state match. Such an increase is not possible without hefty Arkansas tax increases. With huge costs on the horizon Arkansas cannot afford to let enrollment continue its huge climb.
Other factors include:
- Voters have never been comfortable with the program being for able bodied working age people who don’t work, and you can’t require enrollees to work or even look for work.
- Enrollment has climbed far beyond all estimates.
- The program’s cost per enrollee continues to climb.
- The promise that the state will save money, fizzled and the legislature keeps finding itself shifting more and more money to Medicaid through General Improvement Funds (GIF), fund transfers, and giving Medicaid a higher percentage of certain funds.
State Representatives who voted for the freeze know they could face the wrath of Governor Hutchinson. The Governor has not been shy about attacking members of his own political party for being too conservative in his eyes. Here are two examples from 2016:
- Governor Hutchinson tried to defeat Representative Josh Miller by encouraging and financially supporting a primary opponent. Miller (sponsor of the freeze) drew the wrath of the Governor in 2015 for being too conservative and opposing Obamacare Medicaid Expansion. The people of Representative Miller’s House district overwhelmingly reelected Miller over the Governor’s man.
- The Hutchinson administration pushed outrageous and phony claims of impending budget cuts in Senator Linda Collin-Smith’s district if she succeeded in stopping funding for the Obamacare program. A newspaper and liberals used the phony numbers to try to turn local opinion against Senator Collins-Smith.
The next big hurdle for the freeze bill is the Senate Committee on Public Health Welfare and Labor. To pass in committee, HB1465 must be supported by five of the following eight committee members: Senators Cecile Bledsoe, Eddie Cheatham, John Cooper, Lance Eads, Scott Flippo, Stephanie Flowers, Missy Irvin, and David J. Sanders.
Only four of the eight Senate committee members will be up for reelection in 2018: Bledsoe, Flippo, Irvin, and Sanders. (Two committee members are Democrat – Cheatham and Flowers.)