Democrat Mike Ross unequivocally told a crowd of Delta leaders he supports continuing the private option while Republican Asa Hutchinson said he wants to wait and see the status of key components next year when the program must be re-authorized.
Both gubernatorial candidates brought their often competing visions for Arkansas before the Delta Grassroots Caucus in Little Rock Friday. Hutchinson laid out two indicators for evaluating the health insurance program during the next session.
“We need to make sure that this program is an incentive for people to work and not an incentive for people not to work. Then we have to evaluate it long-term as to whether it is affordable and we do the right thing with the people of Arkansas,” said Hutchinson.
Hutchinson didn’t say what he thinks the “right thing” is but his opponent Mike Ross did. The Democrat said he continues to support the private option and weighed in on Hutchinson’s concern about work incentive.
“I hear people all the time tell me, ‘Well I’m against it because I don’t want my tax money going to provide health insurance to people that don’t want to work.’ Well guess what, they already get it. They’re part of traditional Medicaid. This Medicaid expansion, this private option, is about providing health care to the people that are trying to do the right thing and stay off welfare but they’re working the jobs with no benefits,” said Ross.
Although Hutchinson said he wants to wait on more data before evaluating the program for re-authorization he did seem to interpret some of the current data as a positive for the program.
“What have we learned with the private option? 150,000 people have gained healthcare, it’s certainly been good for our rural hospitals. They’re reduced indigent care, unreimbursed indigent care, but we’ve also learned some things that I’ve learned on the campaign trail. We have shifted charitable care to government care,” said Hutchinson.
Hutchinson may have also provided some cover for Republicans supporting the program. He did not mention the name “Obama” during his remarks on the Affordable Care Act’s provisions and stated the private option has some conservative principles.
While Hutchinson said he’s worried about the private option providing health care for people not working he also referred to the population as the “working poor” twice throughout his remarks. He suggested it might be unfair to end the program and take away insurance from the working poor while the federal law gives subsidies to those making more than them.
“We have a debate on whether we’re going to extend insurance coverage for the working poor. If we did away with the private option what does that leave you? It says we’re going to subsidize middle income folks but we’re going to leave the working poor out of the equation,” said Hutchinson.
Frank Gilbert, the Libertarian Party’s candidate for governor, and Green Party nominee Josh Drake did not attend the Delta Grassroots Caucus.