As a retired teacher and former alderwoman in Pine Bluff, I know how important healthcare is to the families and the economy in our state. That’s why I’m extremely concerned about the renewed effort in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and dismantle Medicaid through the Cassidy Graham bill.
Like other repeal proposals we’ve seen this year, this legislation is moving through Congress in a secretive and expedited process that most of us aren’t hearing much about on the news. There have been no Congressional hearings, no expert testimony, no regular order process to engage constituents and no town hall meetings hosted by our Arkansas Senators to help the public understand how our healthcare could change as a result of these proposals.
These efforts to keep this bad bill hushed up and jam it through Congress by the end of September aren’t an accident. The Cassidy Graham proposal includes many of the same unpopular features and devastating consequences for Arkansas families and our economy that sunk similar bills this summer.
The bill would eliminate the tax credits in the ACA that help millions of Americans afford coverage in state marketplace, taking coverage away from families and individuals, swelling the ranks of uninsured people and shifting costs back to consumers and the state. In Arkansas, more than 300,000 adults have private option coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Thanks to the ACA, the number of uninsured people shrank by over 10% since 2014—putting Arkansas on the top ten list of states with a declining uninsured.
Graham-Cassidy also makes federal funding for Medicaid expansion in our state into a block grant that expires by 2027, leaving states to pick up the cost of the expansion, which many states like Arkansas won’t be able to afford. Beyond expiring funding for expanded Medicaid and private coverage under ACA, the bill would also convert traditional Medicaid, which was in place 30 years before the ACA was even passed, into a capped system that shrinks over time. For decades, Medicaid has provided coverage to our most vulnerable populations: children, seniors, people with disabilities and returning veterans.
In Arkansas, Medicaid covers over 717,000 people including over 70,000 seniors, 150,000 people with disabilities, and 27,000 veterans. The largest segment of Medicaid enrollees in Medicaid is children: over 380,000 Arkansas children—that’s about half the children in our state—get health coverage through Medicaid and another 120,000 children are covered by the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a program related to Medicaid that provides health coverage to the lowest income kids.
As a retired teacher with years of experience in the public system, I can attest to the value of Medicaid in educating our children: without healthcare, children cannot learn, cannot play, and cannot grow to their full potential. Taking care of children means addressing the needs of both their minds and their bodies—that’s why children’s healthcare is a critical investment in the future.
Whether you are a parent, senior, child or state legislator—Cassidy Graham is bad news for Arkansas. As a former Alderwoman, I can attest to the important role that federal Medicaid funding plays in our state and local budgets since it not only provides healthcare coverage but it also supports hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, and other providers—often some of the largest employers in our states. Medicaid is largest single source of federal funding to Arkansas—it makes up over 60 percent of federal money coming to our state. Without it, our state lawmakers would have cut other important services like education and transportation topay for the growing cost of healthcare for seniors, children, people with disabilities and families.
The Cassidy Graham bill would strip $3.9 billion in Medicaid funding to our state between now and 2027, creating a massive new burden for Arkansas’ state budget and leaving hundreds of thousands of people—many of them children and seniors, without health coverage.
The revival of the Cassidy Graham bill also threatens to de-rail the bi-partisan agreement that just last week was discussed to renew funding for CHIP. This renewed effort to repeal the ACA and restructure Medicaid for permanent cuts signals a step backward to politics as usual that puts partisanship ahead of the interests of families, seniors, children and veterans.
Senators Boozman and Cotton have another important opportunity to show some leadership for Arkansas and the country: it’s time to move forward with bipartisan solutions to healthcare that help families and business and to reject the re-run politics of repeal.