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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 10/16/2018
Print Headline: On the balance, still mean