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Protesters rally at senators' Little Rock offices, urge rejection of Medicaid cuts

by Andy Davis | June 22, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

A group of demonstrators held a rally and delivered postcards, signed by about 1,000 Arkansans, to the Little Rock offices of U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton and John Boozman on Wednesday, asking them to oppose efforts to cut Medicaid and other government health care assistance.

Cotton is one of 13 members of a Republican working group assigned to write Senate legislation aimed at dismantling the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Although the text of the bill had not been released as of Wednesday, rally leader Toney Orr, referring to legislation passed last month by the House, told a staff member in Cotton's office that the Senate bill is "basically a copy of the House bill that so many of [Cotton's] fellow Republicans didn't like."

A nearby demonstrator carried a pink, papier-mache pig decorated with lipstick to illustrate the point.

[INTERACTIVE: Compare new health care bill with Affordable Care Act]

"We just want [Cotton] to know that you can put lipstick on a pig, but it doesn't change the fact that it's still a pig," Orr told the staff member.

Known as the American Health Care Act, the House bill, supported by all four of Arkansas' House members, would phase out enhanced funding to states such as Arkansas that have expanded Medicaid to cover more low-income adults. More than 320,000 people were covered by the expanded part of Arkansas' Medicaid program as of April 30.

The House bill would also reduce federal tax credit subsidies available to help many of those who don't qualify for Medicaid to buy coverage on health insurance exchanges, and it would limit the growth in federal Medicaid spending on health care for the poor.

According to a report Wednesday in The Washington Post, a draft of the Senate version contains similar provisions, although with a smaller reduction in federal tax credits and a stricter cap on the growth of Medicaid spending.

Speaking to reporters in Little Rock on Wednesday via a video connection from Germany, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he spoke to Cotton about the legislation last week.

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"I think there's a big question mark as to how the Senate is going to reach a majority to pass this bill," the Republican governor said.

Although he opposes ending the enhanced funding for Medicaid expansion, Hutchinson plans to seek federal approval to move about 60,000 people off the program by setting the income cutoff for eligibility at the poverty level, instead of 138 percent of the poverty level.

Under the Affordable Care Act, many of those who would lose coverage would qualify for tax credit subsidies to help pay for coverage on the state's exchange.

Arkansas "needs to set a model for the country, and I hope that whatever [Congress does] fits in with that and does not undercut it in any way," Hutchinson said.

"I'm anxious -- just like everyone -- as we look at what the details of the Senate bill will be," he said. "I recognize the challenge that they face, but my message was, we've got to continue the federal-state partnership.

"We can't have a massive cost-shift to the states. That would really move us back in terms of our health care access in Arkansas."

Neil Sealy, director of Arkansas Community Organizations, said his group gathered the postcard signatures over the past month while canvassing neighborhoods in central Arkansas and at community gatherings in Benton, Washington, Pulaski, Faulkner and Jefferson counties.

Before marching inside the Victory Building to deliver the postcards, about 40 people gathered on the sidewalk outside, where they held signs, chanted slogans and listened to speeches opposing cuts to federal health care programs.

In an email, Cotton spokesman Dylan Haney said the senator is "always happy to hear from Arkansans and is appreciative of those who took the time to come by his office today."

Likewise, Boozman, also a Republican, "appreciates the input he receives from Arkansans," spokesman Sara Lasure said in an email.

"He remains committed to repairing our health care system and putting into place a system that ensures access to affordable, quality care for all Americans," Lasure said.

Information for this article was contributed by Brian Fanney of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 06/22/2017

Print Headline: Protesters rally at senators' LR offices, urge rejection of Medicaid cuts


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