Senator Cotton Sends ACA Repeal To President: 2016 Politics & Arkansas's Response

Jan 7, 2016

US Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) singing for the senate president pro temp to enroll an Affordable Care Act repeal bill into the Senate to be sent to the president's desk.
Credit Cotton Press Office

US Senator Tom Cotton filled the ceremonial role of sending a bill repealing the Affordable Care Act to the president’s desk on Thursday. 

KUAR’s Jacob Kauffman spoke with the Arkansas Senator about repeal and how it fits with the governor’s plan to continue one the ACA's provisions - Medicaid expansion  - with changes.

KAUFFMAN: There have been many repeal votes of the Affordable Care Act since it became law. The latest is a little bit different, a repeal measure is actually making it to the president’s desk. A veto pen is assuredly waiting. Does this vote signal anything new to you?

COTTON: For the first time the president will have to sign his name on the dotted line to veto a bill that would repeal Obamacare. I think that crystallizes just how committed the Democratic Party is to defending this law that has been largely a failure that’s driven up the cost of many people’s health insurance and also led to declining quality for many people as well. And put some businesses out of the industry all together.

I think it will frame the issue very for this upcoming election that Barack Obama and the Democratic Party is committed to government run health care and a one size fits all model that simply doesn’t work in a country as diverse as ours. Republicans however will focus on healthcare that works for patients and families for doctors and communities in our state of Arkansas and all around the country then we’ll have an election in November and I think you’ll see major changes coming next year but I think this legislation frames the issue very well.

KAUFFMAN: Let me try and set you up against Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. The governor has asked the Republican state legislature to continue Medicaid expansion – with some types of changes – this spring. The governor wants what he calls Obamacare repealed of course but he insists Congress should find some sort of a transition or something for the 30 plus states that have expanded Medicaid. This latest repeal effort didn’t have that. What is the alternative for the 200,000 plus low-income Arkansans on the program now?

COTTON: Part of the failure of Obamacare is that it cost millions of Americans health insurance they wanted that, they had, that suited their purposes well. Governor Hutchinson is working with the Medicaid program that reflects many of the exact flaws that I mentioned earlier. The kind of one size fits all program that's managed from Washington DC.

As part of repealing Obamacare in the future [is] replacing it with healthcare that will focus on the needs of patients and the great diversity in our country. What I would like to see is a lot of the strings and the red tape of Medicaid cut so Governor Hutchinson and our legislature can work to address the needs not only of the new Medicaid recipients but also all the people who have been on Medicaid for years in Arkansas.

Our state is very different from a state like say California or Florida or Maine and our legislators and our governor should have the ability to craft a solution that fits our state. They shouldn’t have Washington bureaucrats tying their hands.

KAUFFMAN: Fundamentally do you think that congress should provide federal to dollars to cover people who earn up to a 138 percent of the federal poverty level?

COTTON: Well I think in a country as big and as prosperous as ours we want to make sure that we take care of those people at the margins of society who have maybe lost a job or have a serious illness that they can’t otherwise get coverage but we can do that without Obamacare. We’ve had a lot of programs on the books before Obamacare like Medicaid or the states children health insurance programs. We need to reform those programs to provide more flexibility. To provide governors and legislatures more opportunity to care for them. We don’t need Obamacare dictating the choices that our states have.

A few relevant quotes from Governor Hutchinson's open ended press conference on Wednesday, Jan. 6:

“I would expect any legislation that would end the Affordable Care act would deal with a transition for the 30 some states that have Medicaid expansion as to how you unwind that. It’s not something that you do abruptly. It’s something that would take some time to do and then you’d have to manage that process.” 

"I want to have a debate on the future of healthcare in 2017 when we can actually hopefully have changes that will be meaningful and the state’s need to have the greatest the voice. "

"I don’t think we would have had difficulty here in Arkansas in getting great unity in terms of where we go with our Medicaid population if you had a state block grant type approach where we could put work requirements, not just work referral requirements, but more serious requirements in place. Where we could use flexibility for personal responsibility and management of the entire program."