Hutchinson, Ark. Dems at Odds on New Health Care Bill

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Democrats are at odds over the Graham-Cassidy health care bill being debated on Capitol Hill and how it would impact the state's Medicaid expansion. 

The bill was put forth by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana. 

At a news conference on Tuesday, Hutchinson revealed he'd joined four governors, U.S. senators and the Trump administration in a "very quiet group" to develop the new health care bill. 

President Donald Trump has already expressed support for the bill, while Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, has come out against it. 

If passed, the Graham-Cassidy health care bill would implement a block grant program and give funding to the states. The states would then have a wide margin to decide how that money will be spent. 

It eliminates the Obamacare individual mandate, the Medicaid expansion, tax credits, employer mandates and cost-sharing subsidies. The bill would also let states ease coverage requirements. 

During his conference, Hutchinson said his message on previous Republican attempts to repeal Obamacare had been consistent. The governor said he wanted Obamacare repealed and replaced with an affordable health care system that worked for Arkansans. 

One thing the governor said he kept his eye on was any potential cost shift to the states. Right now, the bulk of Arkansas' Medicaid expansion (or Arkansas Works) is paid for by funds from the federal government. Arkansas then uses that money to buy private insurance for those enrolled in Arkansas Works. 

Hutchinson has expressed concern in the past about Obamacare repeal bills that shifted health care costs to the states by reducing funding. Cost shifts would impact the state budget and might lead to cuts for Arkansas Works. 

In his conference, Hutchinson said this current bill doesn't shift health insurance costs to the states. He called the legislation the best and only option for replacing Obamacare. 

"If this doesn't pass, I think the Affordable Care Act is here in perpetuity. It's built into the fabric of our healthcare system, and I don't see it changing, so this is our last chance," Hutchinson said. 

Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Michael John Gray said he was disappointed Hutchinson embroiled himself in this "desperate" bill. 

Gray gave Hutchinson credit for working with both sides in the past on "Arkansas Works" but said the Graham-Cassidy health care bill would end the state's Medicaid expansion "as we know it." 

By contrast, Hutchinson said Arkansas Works would continue under the Graham-Cassidy health care bill. 

Gray released the following statement on Hutchinson's decision to support this new legislation:

“This is an about-face from Gov. Hutchinson who as recently as July implored leaders from both parties to come together to work deliberatively towards strengthening the Affordable Care Act and in turn “Arkansas Works.” Even yesterday, he admitted that Arkansas Works remains in a “good position” if the Graham-Cassidy bill fails. On that point, we agree whole-heartedly. But, the facts simply don’t line up with the promises Governor Hutchison made yesterday about the legislation."

Citing the American Medical Association's opposition to the bill, Gray called on Hutchinson to recall his support for the legislation and return to seeking a bipartisan solution to fixing Obamacare. 

Prior to the introduction of this bill, Hutchinson also called on both Democrats and Republicans to work together on the issue. However, that doesn't seem to have happened with the Graham-Cassidy health care bill. 

Regardless of who supports the Graham-Cassidy health care bill, all sides are watching the clock. In August, the Senate's parliamentarian told the budget committee that senators had only until September 30 to repeal Obamacare with just a simple majority. After that, it becomes much more difficult for Republicans to complete their seven-year campaign promise of repealing Obamacare. 


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