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BENTONVILLE -- "Arkansas Works," Gov. Asa Hutchinson's revamping of the state's health care spending, is nothing but a rebranding of the "private option" health care plan passed by his Democratic predecessor, challengers at a Bentonville legislative candidates forum said Thursday.

That term is an insult to the governor and to the legislative task force working to draft the plan, their incumbent opponents in the March 1 Republican primary said. Those incumbents were each endorsed by the governor, the challengers replied.

"This side was endorsed to extend the private option with a new name," said Randy Alexander of Rogers, pointing toward the end of the table where the incumbents sat. "The vote (in the Legislature) is so close, that if you vote for this side of the table, it's not going to pass. If you vote for that side, it will. The governor hasn't just endorsed them, but he's been very active in their campaigns. I got a flier at my house where the governor's picture was about four times bigger than Jana's. Let's not kid ourselves on why."

At least 60 people attended the forum, co-hosted by the Rogers-Lowell Area and Bentonville/Bella Vista chambers of commerce. The event began at 6 p.m. Thursday at Northwest Arkansas Community College.

Reps. Sue Scott, Jana Della Rosa and Rebecca Petty, all R-Rogers, are seeking re-election. Alexander and Jana K. Starr of Springdale oppose Della Rosa in the District 90 race. Debra Hobbs of Rogers opposes Petty in the District 94 race. Austin McCollum of Bentonville opposes Scott in the District 95 race. All the candidates in these races attended the event.

Alexander and Hobbs are both former House members who voted against the private option plan when it passed in 2013. Scott, Della Rosa and Petty voted for the budget proposed by the governor in 2015 that extended the plan's provisions while a task force was formed to study alternatives.

"As is, Arkansas Works is a rebranding of the private option, and I oppose expanding Medicaid," McCollum said in his response to the first question. The topic dominated much of the rest of the two-hour forum. Private option takes about $1 billion a year in federal taxpayer money intended for expansion of the state-run Medicaid program and uses it to subsidize private insurance policies instead. The benefit goes to low-income Arkansans who would have qualified for the expanded Medicaid program but have too much income to qualify for pre-expansion Medicaid.

McCollum's opponent, Scott, was the first incumbent to respond to McCollum's characterization. "Arkansas Works is not a rebranding of the private option, and to call it that is an insult to our governor," Scott said. Della Rosa and Petty both said lawmakers intend to make major changes to the health plan. Petty also said calling the plan the private option under another name was an insult.

"There's this idea that if a plan includes any Medicaid expansion money, it's private option. It's not," Della Rosa said.

"What frustrates me about this issue is that every time somebody says we shouldn't take the money, I ask that they propose another solution. I never get one," Della Rosa said. "I'm all about finding solutions."

Proponents of accepting the Medicaid expansion money never answer how the state is going to make up the difference when the federal government starts reducing its portion of the expense, requiring states to take up the difference, Alexander said. In the short term, the state benefits but in the long term, the program will cost the state more, he said.

On other issues, McCollum accused Scott of lying when she attributed negative campaign fliers about her to McCollum. McCollum said he didn't know about the fliers until one showed up in his mail. The fliers were sent out by the Americans For Prosperity group, which has intervened in several legislative races in recent years in opposition to candidates who voted for accepting Medicaid expansion money.

"I don't think anyone appreciates you lying about that," McCollum said of the fliers. An audible gasp went up from the crowd. Scott is the wife of Benton County Circuit Judge John Scott, and is a retired caterer and daycare operator.

On Common Core, the controversial school curriculum, Starr was the most outspoken opponent. "I'm for scrapping it," she said. Starr is an assistant principal for an elementary school in Fayetteville.

All legislators and candidates agreed the law on open carry of firearms is badly written, unclear and should be revised to clearly allow such use. "One of the worst things you can do is create a law that confuses people," Alexander said.

NW News on 02/12/2016

Print Headline: Incumbents, challengers split on health care

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Archived Comments

  • RBBrittain
    February 12, 2016 at 3:56 a.m.

    Of course it's mainly a rebranding. The problem is these morons are too tied up in the national GOP's "repeal and replace" mantra when abandoning "private option" would be harmful to the regular Medicaid budget, would be a financial blow to struggling rural hospitals, and would likely increase premiums for ordinary exchange policies by substantially shrinking the market. Even Gov. Asa! knows we can't afford to abandon it; that's why he's renaming it and putting a little window dressing on it to improve the individual responsibility side of the equation.

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