NORTH LITTLE ROCK — U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said Friday he continues to support the so-called private option and does not agree with ending state promotion of the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace, though he said the decision is the Legislature’s to make.
During an appearance Friday at the Patrick Henry Hays Senior Citizens Center in North Little Rock, Pryor was asked about the amendments to the so-called private option currently being considered by the Legislature. Among other things, the amendments would ban the state from using any appropriated funds to promote the marketplace and do away with in-person assisters to help people enroll.
The private option is Arkansas’ program that uses federal Medicaid money to provide private health insurance to people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. As of Feb. 6, 96,950 Arkansans had obtained coverage through the program, according to the state Department of Human Services.
“I’m not really supportive of cutting back on advertising and outreach for it, because what you’re trying to do under the Medicaid expansion is get people private insurance coverage, and if you really do want to get people private insurance coverage, why would you want to stop promoting it? Why would you stop advertising for it?” said Pryor, who is running for re-election and facing a tough challenge from U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle.
The amendments are an attempt to win votes from legislators who were inclined to vote against appropriating a second round of federal funding for the private option. Pryor acknowledged that the Legislature is trying to work out a compromise and that he is not privy to “all the issues they’re grappling with.”
“Personally, I don’t think that’s the right approach to it, but again, I’m not in the Legislature,” he said.
Pryor also was asked about a Congressional Budget Office report projecting that by 2021 there will be 2.3 million fewer full-time workers because of the federal Affordable Care Act, which Pryor voted for.
Opponents of the law have cited the report as confirmation that it is a job killer. Cotton’s campaign said last week that the report is “the latest embarrassment for Obamacare backers who continue to insist, like Sen. Mark Pryor, that the law is working.”
The report has been the subject of “a lot of spin,” Pryor said.
What the report really says, Pryor said, is that there will be movement within the job market as people get more choices.
“You may have a farmer, and say his wife, she has a job in town because it has health care,” he said. “Under the Affordable Care Act, they’ll be able to get health care other ways. She may quit working. That’s just a decision they make; it’s not that she’s getting kicked out. … You have to tell the whole story.”
Speaking Friday with a group of senior citizens behind him, Pryor criticized Cotton for having voted last year for a budget plan that would have revamped Medicare. Pryor said he is working on legislation to protect against privatizing Medicare, cutting its benefits or changing its eligibility age.
“Unfortunately, my opponent, Congressman Cotton, is one of those people who would like to see Medicare privatized. That’s what he’s voted to do. He voted to privatize Medicare, to cut benefits and even to raise the eligibility age to 70,” Pryor said.
Cotton’s campaign manager, Justin Brasell, said Friday, “Sen. Pryor’s ‘MediScare’ tactics won’t fool Arkansas seniors. Arkansans know that Tom Cotton doesn’t support any changes to Medicare for current retirees or those who are nearing retirement. He supports common-sense reforms that strengthen and preserve Medicare for future generations.”