by Gwen Moritz
Posted 4/22/2013 12:00 am
Updated 8 months ago
I always thought it sheer madness for any Arkansas legislator to even entertain the thought of turning down hundreds of millions of federal dollars and refuse to expand Medicaid to 138 percent of the poverty level. And yes, I’m saying that it is sheer madness for other states to do just that.
When it was time for a vote in Arkansas, it was too late for ideology — which I define as “the way I think things ought to be” — and time for practical consideration. What good would come of turning down the Medicaid money? Refusing to participate could not change the fact that the Affordable Care Act is now the law of the land; it would merely let the benefits of expanded health insurance accrue to other Americans while leaving the working poor of Arkansas in the same old bind.
I’m not completely persuaded that the “private option” that our legislators ultimately adopted is actually better — that is, more effective and efficient — than expansion of the traditional Medicaid program. But I was thrilled when it was adopted because the compromise was far better than refusing money to extend health insurance to a couple hundred thousand Arkansans. By the time the private option was rolled out, I had accepted the fact that ideologues in the Legislature would choose to leave our friends, relatives, co-workers and employees uninsured rather than accept the solution originally envisioned by Obamacare.
It’s not accidental that I used the language — change, accept — of the familiar “Serenity Prayer” in the previous paragraphs, since it was the basis of the argument made by Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, for the private option — the most rational I heard, although I confess I didn’t hear them all.
Various versions of the Serenity Prayer have evolved, but the best known is brief:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Davis was exactly right about the vote on the private option. By that point, even the most virulent opponent of Obamacare should have accepted that there was nothing that legislators in Little Rock could do to undo Obamacare. And even the most supportive of traditional Medicaid should have accepted the fact that simply making the government program bigger and more inclusive was never, ever going to get a supermajority of votes in both houses of the 89th Arkansas General Assembly.
It was compromise of the best sort, with things to love and hate for politicians of any political persuasion. It may not be the most elegant solution, but it should lead directly to greater medical and financial security for the working poor of our state, which is a desirable outcome that should be a source of satisfaction to all who held their noses and pushed the green button.
Of course, I didn’t think there was any rational argument for refusing the Medicaid expansion money. But the most baffling was Rep. Bruce Westerman’s suggestion that voting for the private option — especially if only to free up state revenue for tax cuts — was a betrayal of conservative principles analogous to Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus Christ.
“To my friends who are considering voting for this appropriation, but doing so against the convictions in your heart, I ask you this: Is this vote worth 30 pieces of silver?” Westerman said.
I’m also not persuaded that tax cuts are the answer to all economic ills, especially not when the tax cuts benefit primarily those who already have the most. I guess we’ll see, as the tax cutting went into full swing as soon as the private option was adopted. But if some people did vote for the private option just so they could then cut taxes on the highest income levels, I’m pretty sure that Jesus wouldn’t think that the part that helps the working poor was the more objectionable part.
It appeared last week that Senate Bill 900, the Payday Lenders Trojan Horse Act of 2013, had died a well-deserved death. Perhaps my prayer that our legislators would have the wisdom not to change things that don’t need to be changed has been answered.
Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com.