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It was a remarkable moment on AETN the other day in the governor's debate.

I refer to the public-television forum in which Democratic challenger Jared Henderson, exuding passion, waxed the veteran Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, who exuded interest in getting the exercise over with.

A Libertarian candidate also was there, wasting valuable time.

The subject was the Hutchinson administration's mean and legally dubious requirement that, to stay on Medicaid expansion, recipients must go online and click around to assert or presumably attest that they've been working or looking for work.

Henderson, the 40-year-old Teach for America leader who has been quite the political discovery for state Democrats, expressed utter outrage that the Hutchinson administration would use health care punitively as a supposed incentive to work, when, in fact, health insurance is an enabler of work.

If you can afford to go to the doctor to get a prescription for a Z-pack for a sinus infection, then you probably will be more likely to look for work, show up for work and capably perform work.

Henderson predicted the state will get around eventually to throwing 16,000 poor people off the Medicaid rolls for failure to mouse-click. He said the result would be sicker poor people less able to work and rural hospitals that will begin easing back into the failed old business model of providing uncompensated care.

In response, Asa spoke candidly from a startling position of freely confessed weakness. He said the fact was that Henderson was going to throw 250,000 off health insurance.

And how was that so? Asa said this Legislature will not support Medicaid expansion at all--but pull its vital three-fourths majority vote to appropriate money for it--if we can't force these poor people to click these computers.

Don't get me wrong: I love candor and I love pragmatism. My affinity for pragmatism accounts for my ability to get along as admiringly as I have with Hutchinson. But on the matter in question, the governor has ridden the pragmatism train over a cliff.

He essentially admits what I knew already, which is that the work requirement--by which I mean the computer-click requirement--is not about work at all. Instead it's a raw political sop to mean-spirited legislators who just don't like helping poor people who ought to get up off their behinds and get rich, maybe by the legislative model of taking bribes or laundering government grants or not paying income taxes.

Pragmatism is not the same as helplessness in the face of a troglo-dytic--and we must now say corrupt--Legislature.

It would not be Henderson's fault if he got elected and killed the work requirement and the Republican Legislature abruptly abandoned Medicaid expansion for everyone. It would be the legislators' fault.

The untreated illnesses of poor people would be on their hands, as would be the bankruptcies of rural hospitals in a rural state populated sparsely by people challenged for transportation.

We should not be forced into treating some people unfairly in order to earn the right to treat other people fairly. Because that's not fair at all.

Now let me tell you what is more likely to happen: A federal district court in the District of Columbia will rule next spring--late in our legislative session, about the time for voting on the Medicaid appropriation--in a lawsuit against the state's work requirement. And it will rule that the work requirement illegally exceeds expressed federal statutory guidelines for Medicaid and is contrary to the very essential purpose of Medicaid, and thus void.

The Legislature, huffy about out-of-state liberal judges, will fail to achieve the three-fourths vote for a Medicaid expansion appropriation, and the state will return to its status as a barren health-care wasteland that contains more poor people than most and treats them worse than most.

Asa will be no more to blame than Jared would have been.

Actually, that's not so. Asa would be more to blame, because it's Asa's party--or legislative members thereof--who would be casting a quarter-million poor Arkansans onto the trash heap.

Asa wants credit for being better than his party. But he wants to blame someone else if he can no longer finesse his party to hold rubber bands in place and keep a wondrous public policy teeteringly alive.

Hutchinson says his position represents a "balancing of values," meaning the value to help poor people and the value to make poor people work.

But you haven't balanced anything if a poor person has no job and loses his health insurance because of it. You've taken two values and run them headlong into each other and destroyed both.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 10/16/2018

Print Headline: On the balance, still mean


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  • RBear
    October 16, 2018 at 7:57 a.m.

    Ah, yes we see Hutchinson's play. The lesser of two evils. Is that really how we play this game instead of working with these folks to help them become more productive? It's the sign of the laziness of Republicans in dealing with the economic challenges of the state. Sure, let's throw in some tax cuts to boost the economy even though we have no clue if they'll work. Let's throw some people off Medicaid even if we have no clue if it will really help drive job training or employment assistance.
    Just more Republican laziness where governance by policy is a LOT easier than actually coming up with viable programs.

  • Delta123
    October 16, 2018 at 8:46 a.m.

    I'm not so sure that the new work rule is an effort to drive job training or employment assistance. Those things are out there and have been for decades. I tend to think that it's an effort to not incentivize (and fund) able bodied fully functioning childless people to sit on their butts and collect their "entitlement".

  • GeneralMac
    October 16, 2018 at 9:23 a.m.

    Delta123 nailed it !

    Even FDR believed there was no free lunch.

    WPA and CCC required WORK .

    A shame the Democrat party, John Brummett, his henchman RBear, consider "work" and "jobs" to be vulgar 4 letter words.

    A shame how the Democrat party has fallen so far in its beliefs that it defends ...."ABLE BODIED YOUNG PEOPLE WITH NO DEPENDENTS " suck taxpazyer money w/o meeting any criteria.

    Shame on you John Brummett !
    Shame on your henchman (RBear) also !

  • drs01
    October 16, 2018 at 9:28 a.m.

    Yes, a federal judge will most likely throw out this requirement... but I don't believe the leg will act as you have stated. The "point and click" work requirement has been a strong message to the dead beats.Kudos to our governor and the legislature. The days of a free ride with no oversight are long gone. It's about time. Arkansas and America wasn't built by people on welfare. Someday, liberals will understand that, hopefully before it's too late.

    October 16, 2018 at 11:40 a.m.

    I believe long term, chronically unemployed folks who have the capacity to work but because of lifestyle (drugs/alcohol/irresponsibility) do not seek work are the the reason the legislature has tried this approach to trimming the state's cost for their medical care. Once again Mr. Brummett's compassion, which is commendable, blinds him to the reality of those who, because of their choices, become and stay dependent on our taxes. It seems a common trait in those of a certain leftist delusional idealism.

  • hah406
    October 16, 2018 at 11:54 a.m.

    I am fine with the work requirement, but I want one of you right wingers to produce an actual live, able bodied, young person with no dependents who is just sitting around not working solely so they can collect expanded Medicaid. Just one live person. Show me. They don't exist.

  • LRCrookAtty
    October 16, 2018 at 11:59 a.m.

    Hah...They do exist. My cousins and several relatives are eat up with laziness. They spend more time trying to get the free dollar, than if they worked those hours they would make more. I see it all over Saline County and have represented many cases where the person was just this type.

  • WhododueDiligence
    October 16, 2018 at 12:03 p.m.

    "Henderson predicted the state will get around eventually to throwing 16,000 poor people off the Medicaid rolls for failure to mouse-click. He said the result would be sicker poor people less able to work and rural hospitals that will begin easing back into the failed old business model of providing uncompensated care."
    Because sick people get health care treatment whether they have insurance coverage or not, one way or another those who have insurance coverage will pay for the treatment of low-income people who don't. Conservative voters may enjoy the feeling of kicking poor people off Medicaid. And conservative politicians may enjoy the votes of conservative voters who enjoy kicking poor people of Medicaid. But conservatives don't enjoy the resulting expense of healthcare provider rate increases and the resulting insurance premium (plus deductibles and co-pay) hikes which affect them like everybody else.
    As Brummett's phrasing indicates, we've been down this failed-old-business-model road before. It ends in healthcare costs exceeding the rate of inflation, which down the road is unsustainable . It ends in expensive emergency room visits and expensive hospital stays which could have been avoided by more prompt and less expensive treatment via Medicaid coverage. Another complication arises when rural hospitals don't survive. Then the road to the nearest surviving place gets longer.

  • Delta123
    October 16, 2018 at 12:13 p.m.

    Ha you may have a point. Somewhat. These people are not sitting around doing nothing simply so they can get Medicaid. They are sitting around doing nothing so they can get free Medicaid, Food Stamps, Subsidized Housing, Telephones, Child Care, Transportation and who knows what else. When it is more lucrative to free load than work then that's what you get. If you want to see some real bona fide able bodied people on the dole, take a little ride down to Helena-West Helena, AR in Phillips County and you'll be looking for someone who isn't getting a handout.

  • Delta123
    October 16, 2018 at 12:37 p.m.

    There's another big money maker here in the eastern part of the state that everyone should know about. Foster Parenting. Specifically, Grandmothers become the legal Foster Parent to their own Grandchildren and get a nice check every month for each of these kids. From a revenue enhancement standpoint, it pays dividends for teenage mothers to have multiples of children so that Granny can get multiples of checks for all her Foster Children. Brilliant, no?