As Arkansas lawmakers consider an expansion of health care under the federal health care law, hundreds turned out Thursday for a bi-partisan rally on the steps of the state Capitol in favor of an expansion.
Republican Sen. Jonathan Dismang of Beebe, who had been skeptical, told the crowd that members of his party are keeping an open mind and working to reach to reach an agreement.
"The interest exists and people are willing to dive into this and make sure they’re making truly informed decisions," Dismang said.
"That has not always been the case. And again, just take some comfort in the fact that exists and we will do the very best we can for this state as we look to shape the future of health care in Arkansas."
What opened the minds of many Republicans to consider an expansion was a plan approved by the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to allow Medicaid funds to be used to purchase private insurance for the newly eligible through an exchange.
Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat who has been pushing for an expansion, told the crowd an expansion can only happen when both sides are willing to make compromises.
"I think the important thing here is that under our constitution, this appropriation requires 75 (percent of the) vote. That doesn’t happen with a legislature that is roughly divided on a partisan basis," Beebe said.
"So if Republicans and Democrats don’t work together; if Republicans and Democrats don’t find common ground; if Democrats and Republicans don’t listen to each other it’s fruitless. It’s not going to happen."
About 250,000 Arkansans would become eligible for coverage if a deal can be reached.
Faye Graham of Little Rock would be among them, and spoke to the crowd, calling herself "one of the newly minted poor."
She’s a college graduate, sent her children to school at Yale and Wellesley universities, but said her illnesses have destroyed her life.
"I have no health insurance. Through December I was treated for two cancers. I have been treated in three different states. I have moved four times and am currently homeless," Graham said. "What many people don’t realize about those in my situation, in particular women, is that we are not only one catastrophic illness away from ruin, we are one broken relationship away from ruin," Graham said.
An expansion would also benefit hospitals, especially in smaller communities, which have been struggling.
"As a partner with my local hospital, I understand the critical need of reducing the burden of uncompensated care," said Dr. Clark Fincher with the Arkansas chapter of the American College of Physicians.
He said that’s especially true "with the cuts to Medicare funding to hospitals, which are already a part of the Affordable Care Act, which will result in funding shortfalls so severe that the very survival of many Arkansas hospitals will be in jeopardy should we not accept federal funding offered to provide health insurance to those Arkansans earning less than 138% of the federal poverty level and who are currently not receiving Medicaid benefits."
Dismang said there will be many more questions from lawmakers, but assured the crowd, "We’re going to do our job. We’re going to gather information that we need and we’re going to make an intelligent decision that is best for Arkansans, best for the future health care of this great state and we’re going to make you proud."