We can file this one under “it’s about time.”
As reported by the Arkansas News Bureau, the Arkansas House of Representatives finally passed an appropriations bill that provides federal funding for the so-called health care private option, resolving the issue that has dominated the fiscal session.
Last month the Senate passed the $915 million appropriation in a 27-8 vote. The House failed in four previous attempts to pass it, each time falling a few votes short of the three-fourths majority, or 75 votes, in the 100-member House, that were needed to approve any appropriations bill.
As reported, the private option is Arkansas’ alternative to the expansion of state Medicaid rolls that was proposed under the federal Affordable Care Act. Since its inception, the Arkansas model has served as a blueprint for several other states.
Under this approach, the state obtained permission from the federal government to use the federal Medicaid money that would have gone to state Medicaid expansion to subsidize private health insurance for people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
In health care, as with many things, critical lapses in the availability of affordable health care disproportionately affect the poor and the elderly. They are forced to make choices between food and medicine, rent and doctor bills… and many other necessities between which no one should have to chose.
According to the Arkansas Department of Human Services, about 94,000 people have enrolled in private plans through the program, and another 11,000 who applied have been enrolled in traditional Medicaid because that program is more suited to their needs. About 105,000 people have applied since the program launched in October.
Most onlookers knew that passage was both inevitable and necessary. What remains a mystery is the prize Republicans hoped to claim by foot dragging on the issue.
On certain levels, anything connected to President Barack Obama gets an automatic roadblock by a dwindling segment of the Republican party. While framed as a matter of fiscal conservancy, at its heart this series of rejections by the House was clearly the desperate clawing of those on the wrong side of history.
Fortunately, some recognized the folly of entrenchment. Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, is typical of this position. Hammer said on the House floor that he had decided to vote “yes” after voting against the appropriation earlier in the session.
“There are people that would be hurt if I don’t vote for this, and I don’t want to see those innocent people get hurt because of that,” he said, adding that he would continue to fight for changes to the program and that he would vote against it next year if it does not produce the promised results.
Hammer is correct. There are people who would be hurt if funding was not reallocated. He’s likely thinking about the poor people mentioned above. While they are the visible and most obvious victims of our broken health care system, they are not the only ones.
As has been long discussed, people without insurance wait longer to go to the doctor. They wait until they are much sicker; and then they go to the emergency room at a hospital instead of a family doctor. Either way, the rest of society will pick up the tab. They do so through higher insurance premiums, more expensive prescriptions and longer waiting times when they require emergency services. In short, you can’t cheat the devil.