LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Calling it the "best and last" opportunity to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Governor Asa Hutchinson came out in support of the latest Senate bill developing in Congress this week.
“It’s the wrong direction for America,” the Republican governor said at a midday news conference about the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
He said he has been working behind the scenes with four other Republican governors to come up with a new plan ever since a late-night vote sent another bill down in defeat back in July.
The governor said he had problems with some parts of earlier Washington reform efforts.
“I have opposed initial measures that have been introduced on the House and early in the Senate because they represented a cost shift to the states,” he said.
He claimed the new bill doesn't do that. He said the Graham-Cassidy bill would give each state a chunk of money to figure out health care on their own.
“It repeals as much of the Affordable Care Act as it can under the reconciliation rules in Washington, and then it permits the states to make decisions beyond that,” the governor said.
Arkansas leaders are big fans of flexibility. It's the spirit behind the state's unique Medicaid expansion where the state buys private health insurance for poor people.
He claimed that this new bill delivers similar amounts of money with fewer strings.
“We take all of that expansion money plus all of the other money that flows through the Affordable Care Act for that expansion population,” he said. “We take that money, we divide it up by states, we tell the states it's up to them to design their system.”
[Ed. note: An analysis done by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities projects that Arkansas could lose more than $1 billion by 2026 in federal funding under the Graham-Cassidy bill.]
But activists who have opposed previous efforts to repeal so-called Obamacare dispute those numbers and fear how it will affect poor and working class people.
“The governor should understand how it would put a very huge burden on the state to cover whatever is not able to be paid for with that block grant money,” said Marthela Johnson, a volunteer with Arkansas Community Organizations.
The governor has a simple response to concerns about costs.
“Well it's expensive now,” he said. “I mean if you look at the insurance premiums, they're going up.”
And Hutchinson is not worried about pre-existing conditions.
“I think people expect to have that coverage. You can cover it in different ways and I think you'll see the states have different options for covering someone with pre-existing conditions,” he said.
Activists are planning to return to Washington to protest as early as this weekend.
Governor Hutchinson said he has spoken with Senators John Bozeman and Tom Cotton about his support for the bill.
By rule, the Senate only has until September 30 to put the bill to a vote in order for it to pass with a simple majority.