Ending Medicaid expansion in Arkansas would be “unbiblical,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during a March 17 radio interview.
Hutchinson officially opposes the 2010 federal health law. But, like Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Hutchinson supports the law’s new federal spending to put working-age adults with no kids and no disabilities on Medicaid.
Hutchinson echoed Kasich’s faith-based Obamacare rhetoric in an interview with Doc Washburn on Newsradio 102.9 KARN, insisting his Arkansas Works plan would use Medicaid expansion funding to help the poor.
Without Medicaid expansion, Hutchinson said, “we’re ending any type of coverage for that waitress in the diner that’s struggling to make a living, that for the first time has some health insurance. But we’d be continuing to subsidize that middle-income person who goes on the exchange to get their insurance that the government helps pay for.”
Under Obamacare, Arkansans with incomes ranging from 100-400 percent of the poverty line can purchase subsidized health insurance through HealthCare.gov. Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion covers anyone with income at or below 138 percent of the poverty line.
“That is fundamentally unfair,” Hutchinson continued, “and I think it’s quite frankly unbiblical that we would forget the least of these and say we’re going to continue to provide taxpayers’ money to help the more wealthy or those that have more income.”
Kasich — a fellow Republican — frequently uses the Bible to threaten Obamacare critics as he travels the country promoting Medicaid expansion.
“When ya get to see St. Peter he’s not gonna ask, ‘Did you balance the budget?’” Kasich said during an October 2014 campaign stop. “He’s going to say, whether he’s Peter or whether he’s Jacob, ‘What’d you do for the least of those?’”
Hutchinson also told Washburn that rejecting Medicaid expansion would mean “sending our money to Washington, we’re getting nothing for [it],” a common refrain from Kasich as he pushed for Medicaid expansion in Ohio.
"Turning down your money back to MT on an ideological basis…doesn't make a lot of sense to me,"-OH Repub Gov Kasich http://t.co/czPrW919BK
— Steve Bullock (@GovernorBullock) January 22, 2015
In Ohio, Kasich ultimately circumvented the General Assembly for his Medicaid expansion after failing to persuade legislators to support it. Hutchinson’s Arkansas Works plan centers on waivers meant to make the proposal more palatable to Republican legislators.
Arkansas Works would replace the state’s Private Option, a budget-busting Medicaid expansion program Hutchinson agreed to end this year. Any waivers for enrollee work requirements or cost-sharing would require approval from the Obama administration, which has rejected similar requests from other states.
State Rep. Josh Miller, a Republican from Heber Springs, has been fighting the Private Option since before its launch in 2014. Miller thinks Hutchinson’s recent comments prove his Arkansas Works waiver requests are primarily for show.
“You can never negotiate a deal that works well for you when you show up with your hat in your hand,” Miller told Watchdog.org.
“When I ran a bill to eliminate waiting lists for 3,000 Arkansans who have severe developmental disabilities, the governor came out in opposition to that,” Miller said. “I wish he’d had his same dedication to the scriptures in regard to those 3,000 Arkansans who are truly our most vulnerable population.”
“What the governor said smells a lot like dedication to line the pockets of big insurance companies, and it also smells a lot like bovine defecation,” Miller said.
Citing the bill to resolve Medicaid waiting lists for the disabled, Miller’s opponent in the March 1 primary — who was endorsed and funded by Hutchinson — ran a radio ad painting Miller as an Obamacare supporter. Miller won the primary by 50 points.
It’s “ridiculous,” Miller said, “to call into question members of the legislature’s faith who think we don’t need to put our state and our nation into more of a tailspin of unmanageable debt.”
“I don’t think the governor did himself any favors with the legislature,” he added.
To win lawmakers’ support for Arkansas Works, Hutchinson has sought to distinguish his plan from the Private Option, and the Private Option from Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.
Before Hutchinson declared rolling back Medicaid expansion “unbiblical,” Arkansas radio host Paul Harrell noted in February that the governor — a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives — said Medicaid expansion wasn’t part of Obamacare only days before conceding it was a key component of Obamacare.
The governor has a receptive audience for Arkansas Works in the State Senate, where Private Option supporters Jane English, Lance Eads, and Eddie Joe Williams won contested primaries this month with Hutchinson’s help.
Hutchinson’s office did not respond to a request for comment.