In solidly red Arkansas, with Republicans now controlling both houses of the state legislature and the governor’s office, one would expect robust opposition to federal overreach, particularly Obamacare.
But Arkansas Republicans were unable to come together in opposition to the Affordable Care Act during the 2015 legislative session. To make matters even worse, many Arkansas GOP legislators who specifically campaigned on repealing Obamacare reportedly twisted arms behind the scenes to ensure the health care law remained in effect.
“This not the conservative way,” said Sen. Linda Collins-Smith. “What happened with Obamacare this year is the worst thing imaginable for the Republican Party. Every true conservative’s hands are being tied. The will of the people is not being heard. It’s very frustrating.”
Sen. Collins-Smith was ecstatic about the election results in Nov. 2014. She saw the tremendous Republican electoral gains as a mandate and catalyst for a long overdue rebuking of unconstitutional federal policies like Obamacare. She introduced Senate Bill 144 (SB144) to immediately terminate Medicaid expansion in the state. Dubbed the ‘Private Option’ in Arkansas, the expansion of Medicaid is a key provision of Obamacare. Without the states opting to expand Medicaid, it is quite possible that the entire program would collapse under its own eight.
Considering how much Arkansans revile Obamacare, and the clear mandate set the previous year, Sen. Collins-Smith expected her measure would breeze through the legislature and be signed into law without much resistance. However, as the session progressed, it became apparent that Republican legislative leaders wanted to keep the federal dollars flowing into the state’s coffers by continuing Medicaid expansion. Sen. Collins-Smith said she was stunned to find that several legislators who had openly opposed the Private Option and campaigned aggressively against it had changed their positions.
“Several legislators who voted for Obamacare and the Private Option were booted by the voters. It was political suicide in 2014. Arkansas people are just sick and tired of getting lied to by politicians. They gave a Republican governor and legislature a try because they wanted a change from the status quo, and they feel betrayed by those who didn’t keep their word.”
Republicans had enough members on the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor to easily pass SB144. One member, Sen. John Cooper, made repeal of Obamacare the centerpiece of his campaign, and voter hostility toward the federal act was a direct factor in his election. Once in session, however, he quickly changed his tune and was joined by fellow committee members Sen. Missy Irvin and Sen. David Sanders in crushing Sen. Collins-Smith’s bill to repeal the Private Option in Arkansas.
Particularly troubling is that in spite of overwhelming opposition to Obamacare by Arkansas voters, three of the Republican Senators who effectively saved the unpopular program in Arkansas — Sen. Cooper, Sen. Irvin, and Sen. Jim Hendren — had all once claimed to be strong opponents of the federal health care takeover. But when push came to shove, they moved in favor of Obamacare, and against the will of the people.
Brenda Vassaur Taylor co-founded Conduit for Commerce, a 501(c)3 policy foundation that has opposed Medicaid Expansion in Arkansas since 2013. She elaborated on the GOP betrayal that occurred during this year’s legislative session.
“The newly elected Republican governor [Asa Hutchinson] made it clear early after taking office that he preferred to receive the additional money from the federal government brought into the state by the Medicaid Expansion. Within only a few days after the session started, he was able to immediately pass [SB96] which would continue to allow for that option.
“The bill was passed before the newly elected Republican controlled legislature had an opportunity to gain confidence in their new position and while still wanting to follow and support a newly elected Republican governor. It appeared that a large number wished to retain early on all the goodwill the Governor’s approval would offer them.”
However, there was a bill relating to Obamacare signed into law this year in Arkansas. SB96 was deceptively sold to the public as a repeal of the Private Option. In actuality, SB96 does not stop the Medicaid expansion until the end of 2016, and calls an emergency task force later this year to decide its true fate. The fact that Sen. Hendren’s weaker bill was pushed to passage by Gov. Hutchinson and other institutional power-brokers, while Sen. Collins-Smith’s SB144, containing much stronger and more decisive language against Medicaid expansion, was squashed, left many activists and lawmakers alike suspecting SB96 is little more than a smoke-and-mirrors distraction en route to an eventual re-affirmation of Obamacare and the Private Option.
“Advocates of Medicaid expansion were given a great deal more time to pass another measure to change [SB96]. In fact, our governor has already called a special session for Medicaid reform. A Medicaid reform model is expected to be unveiled in a month or two. There is at least a 50/50 chance that the special session will revive Medicaid expansion after the deadline in Sen. Hendrin’s bill,” President of the Advance Arkansas Institute, Dan Greenberg said.
The Advance Arkansas Institute (AAI) is “nonprofit research and educational organization committed to advancing public policy based on free markets, individual liberty, and limited, transparent government,” according to its website. The organization has been active in the fight against Obamacare and the Private Option for several years.
“There are unfortunately many Republican lawmakers who are willing to give limited government lip service, but when it comes down to cutting time, it’s hard to find strong advocates of limited government,” Greenberg said.
These Arkansas Republican lawmakers failed to take decisive action against Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion despite embarrassing news stories about Medicaid corruption in the state becoming national news. A May 2015 Forbes report elaborates on what’s likely the ‘tip of the iceberg’ for Medicaid-related fraud related to Arkansas’ Private Option:
Internal e-mails from the Arkansas Department of Human Services surfaced, revealing that the state had never bothered to verify that individuals enrolled in Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion were still eligible for benefits. According to data provided by state officials, this is costing taxpayers up to $20 million each and every month…
State officials contended that they had received a temporary waiver from the Obama administration, allowing them extra time to perform the eligibility checks. But it turns out that no formal waiver ever existed…
Meanwhile, nearly 3,000 children and adults with developmental disabilities are sitting on Medicaid waiting lists. Some of them have been waiting eight years or more for their needed home- and community-based services. They continue to wait, while Arkansas bureaucrats provide Obamacare welfare to 40,000 able-bodied adults who aren’t even eligible.
Unfortunately, what happened in Arkansas was not an isolated exception. Bills to stop Obamacare also died in other solidly red states, such as Texas, West Virginia, Indiana, Mississippi, Nevada and South Carolina. If these measures had all passed, it would have severely crippled implementation of the health care law, because the colossal program requires a great deal of state-level compliance to pull off. But far too many Republicans played lip-service to limiting the federal government while chasing federal dollars and pandering to the insurance lobby.
With the Supreme Court rubber-stamping the ACA with its decision in King v. Burwell, the final battleground to defeat Obamacare is in the states. A great deal of progress has been made in this arena in recent years. Twenty states refused to expand Medicaid. Twenty-seven states refused to assist the feds and rejected health care exchanges. Several more states have passed more comprehensive legislation to stop Obamacare. In spite of the set-backs, activists and lawmakers alike must work to follow the examples of Missouri and Arizona by pulling the rug out from under Obamacare at the state level,
This is where the health care scheme is most vulnerable.
“The most important thing from an economic growth perspective and a state budget perspective, we need to drive a stake through the private option’s heart so it can never come back again,” Greenberg said. The Advance Arkansas Institute is not giving up on the fight, and neither is Conduit for Commerce. Those policy centers will be continuing to work alongside grassroots activists in Arkansas and lawmakers like Sen. Collins-Smith to defeat Obamacare.
“I think that rolling back the government expansion of Medicaid is step one. Step two is doing everything possible to make an exchange federal, and not involve the state,” Greenberg said. “Step three is reform at the state level. It makes a lot of sense for improvements in health care policy such as licensing reforms to create competition to happen at the state level because it’s certainly never going to happen at the federal level.”
Vassaur Taylor recommends a similar path forward in Arkansas.
“Talk to your own private physician and ask your friends to do the same–in order to truly understand what is going on as it concerns government control of health care,” Vassaur Taylor said. “Also ask their employer about these issues and how the new law is affecting the employer and employee. Talk to health insurance agents and ask how the new law has changed that industry. Ask their accountant in prep of their tax return how Obamacare has affected them.
“And lastly, talk to your state house and state senate candidates about this issue and vote in primaries for candidates who will end Medicaid expansion–not for those who say they are looking for a new solution.”
State measures can thwart implementation of Obamacare and effectively nullify it. The Courts have failed to stop it, and Congress clearly has no intention of repealing the ACA. But widespread state noncooperation could cause it to collapse under its own weight, effectively repealing it in practice.
The Tenth Amendment Center offers a five step plan that can put Obamacare out of commission in your state. Model legislation would prohibit the enforcement of Obamacare by the state insurance commissioner as well as legislation banning the creation or operation of an exchange(already active in 36 states). In addition, the TAC offers legislation to reject Medicaid expansion and block the IRS’ illegal taxes. A comprehensive ACA Anti-Commandeering Act covers the other four steps, and more.
An additional silver lining, according to Sen. Collins-Smith, is that all of the legislators who capitulated on Obamacare are now very vulnerable to primary challenges and serious intra-party backlash. However, that news does little to help those who are suffering because of federal health care legislation that has already hurt residents of Arkansas as well as the rest of the country immeasurably.
“The people of Arkansas are not getting the services they deserve. Their pharmaceutical bills are going through the roof. Their insurance premiums are going through the roof. Different agencies were cut to fund the private option. Those most desperately in need of help remain waiting in line. Meals on wheels and programs to feed the elderly have been neglected,” Sen. Collins-Smith said. “The people of Arkansas feel punished, and they hate what is going on. They hate what they are getting from their elected officials. We have to get our priorities straight.”
The Tenth Amendment Center will continue to report on all developments breaking in state legislatures to stop Obamacare and other federal encroachments of our rights in Arkansas and elsewhere around the country. You can find more information about our five step plan to defeat Obamacare and how to effectuate the plan in your state AT THIS LINK.