All Eyes On Arkansas (Editorial)

When Arkansas finds itself the center of national attention, the reason can range from very bad (Central High, 1957) to very good (Razorback basketball, 1994). Over the past few months, the eyes of a nation trying to work with the reality of the Affordable Care Act have been trained on Arkansas, where bipartisanship aimed at doing the best for Arkansas’ working poor while controlling the growth of government had struck upon a novel solution called the “private option.”

Little Arkansas, with less than 1 percent of the U.S. population but more than its share of working poor, had offered a conflicted nation something that made sense.

There’s nothing simple about health care in America, before or since Obamacare, and the private option is not simple. But it is elegant. It directs assistance to people who work, but for low wages, and it uses federal tax dollars to integrate them into the private insurance system. It provides beneficiaries with non-emergency health care options and protects them from financial ruin while relieving providers, particularly hospitals, and the rest of us of the mounting pass-along costs of uncompensated care.

By pulling in younger, healthier insureds, it improves the risk profile of the individual health insurance marketplace. And the employers of these low-wage workers, particularly the smallest businesses, get the benefits of an insured workforce.

If it were a matter of merely a majority vote, the private option would not be on life support. But such is the law in Arkansas, requiring a supermajority in two houses of the Legislature, that a minority of lawmakers could pull the plug just as the patient is beginning to make some improvement. And they could do it while the entire nation is watching.

What will they think of Arkansas then?