Governor Holding Medicaid Expansion Town Hall As Special Session Looms

Mar 22, 2016

Gov. Asa Hutchinson in a file photo speaking to the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.
Credit Chris Hickey / KUAR News

In an effort to rally public opinion behind his healthcare plan, Arkansas Works, Gov. Asa Hutchinson is holding a town hall meeting Tuesday evening in Conway.

The current version of the healthcare program for over 200,000 low-income Arkansans, known as the private option, will expire at the end of this year if the legislature doesn’t take action.

Political scientist Hal Bass at Ouachita Baptist University says turning to the public is not a regularly used tactic for governors to pass legislation but it’s a good opportunity for Hutchinson to take command of the public narrative surrounding his version of Medicaid expansion.

"It's an attempt to put his spin on developments in a way that he controls the message. There’s a real danger that the message that he’s putting forward is getting fragmented or distorted," says Bass. "This gives him the microphone."

Though gubernatorial appeals to the public  to pass legislation aren't a regular feature of Arkansas politics Bass says that doesn't mean it's irregular. He noted David Pryor's tour of Arkansas promoting his Arkansas Plan to shift some roles of governance from the state to local level is perhaps the most well known but not the only example.

"In the case of Bill Clinton and educational reforms he was advancing, there was a sense in which Hillary went public on his behalf in public sessions around the state. To a lesser extent I think you can see Mike Huckabee on educational reforms even with school consolidation, doing a little bit of trying to generate or gin up public support," says Bass. "Governors Jim Guy Tucker and Mike Beebe were probably less inclined or disposed to do this."

Gov. Hutchinson's Arkansas Works program would continue the current coverage of the private option, but add new restrictions. The Medicaid expansion, and state-level changes to it, are made possible by the Affordable Care Act.

A special session of the Arkansas Legislature to address the issue is slated to begin April 6. Previous legislative votes on the healthcare plan have passed by narrow margins.

Tuesday's town hall meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Central Baptist College in Conway.