Expand Medicaid Redux (Editorial)

We’re beginning to sound like a broken record (if anyone remembers what that sounds like): The General Assembly should rush to take the federal government up on its offer to pay the entire cost of extending Medicaid coverage to 250,000 Arkansans beginning in 2014.

Yes, we know that federal money isn’t free — that much of it is, in fact, borrowed. And yes, we wish that that weren’t so.

But here’s the bottom line: To turn down hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding just because we wish it weren’t so would be beyond foolish. It would, by all accounting, end up costing the state more in the long run and would leave a quarter million of our friends and neighbors in medical limbo unnecessarily.

What’s more, as our health care writer Mark Friedman reported in last week’s issue, refusing the federal money will put a possibly fatal squeeze on hospitals, especially the small ones that are the difference between life and death in rural areas of Arkansas. Medical providers believed that health care reform would balance out smaller Medicare reimbursements with expanded Medicaid dollars, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing states to refuse the Medicaid expansion without penalty has thrown the dollars out of balance. And while it is not too late — it’s never too late — to improve the law, outright repeal is not an option.

The modern Republican Party has its first-ever opportunity to control our state Legislature. We beg you: Get off to a great start by bringing huge new money into Arkansas, stabilizing the finances of hospitals and other medical providers all over the state and making life better and healthier for the working poor. Do not let political ideology stand in the way of good governance.