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Three news conferences on health care, one after the other Wednesday, revealed Republican policies that are simply mean.

Take note of the phrase. It carefully assigns cruelty to "Republican policies," not Republican hearts.

I know Asa Hutchinson fairly well and French Hill a little. They don't seem mean. Instead they seem beholden to conservative thought that doesn't understand poor people and sometimes resents them.

Many in the Republican base seem to think poor people choose to remain poor because of the supposedly lazy luxury of a food stamp or a Medicaid policy.

The conservative mantra becomes "carry your weight" or "take responsibility for yourself," even as most Medicaid recipients work where and when they can. And the mantra suffices well enough until some poor soul gets cancer and doesn't have insurance granting clear or ready access to care. And sick is sick, whether the poor soul worked or didn't.

"Health care is not a right," conservatives say, leaning on another of the many modern rhetorical crutches available to Republicans.

But it is a right, and Republicans surely think so, too.

Let's say a man gets run over by a truck and is hauled to a trauma center with multiple and life-threatening injuries. Do Republicans want the trauma center to tend to him? Yes, of course. They grant him that right, which federal law requires.

They do not want to leave him unattended while they determine if he'd reported online that he was working or looking for work.

If these Republicans would be honest with themselves and us, they'd acknowledge that they're arguing not about a right to health care, but about how much health care one gets, and when, and how conveniently, and how equitably, and from what source, and by what means of cost-absorption.

At the second of these news conferences, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Henderson blasted Hutchinson's so-called work requirement that has jerked Medicaid from thousands for not clicking a mouse to assert they hold a job or are seeking one.

Henderson presented a breast surgeon oncologist, Dr. Tonya Martin-Dunlap, who told a story.

A woman had received a mammogram while on Medicaid. It had shown a cancerous mass. But now the woman has lost Medicaid. Martin-Dunlap said she and her staff are trying to find a way to treat the woman. She said she'd do her part for free, but that there are many more parties to her surgeries than herself. She said there formerly was an emergency Medicaid program for such circumstances, but that the program didn't seem to be available for persons newly kicked off Medicaid for the rest of the calendar year, as Hutchinson's policy imposes.

So, at the governor's subsequent news conference to brag on his work requirement, I asked what could or should be done for that woman.

Hutchinson's human services director, Cindy Gillespie, said the woman could go to a county DHS office and argue there was "good cause" for the fact that she hadn't reported under the work requirement. But if there was no "good cause," she could go to one of the state's several community health centers, Gillespie said.

So, there it all was, perfectly revealed.

Gillespie laid bare the meanness of policy if not the meanness of heart. She explained that the issue isn't whether to get the woman care. The issue is how much rigmarole you're going to impose as punishment because she didn't execute your silly computer click.

If you're agreeable that this poor woman should have the cancer in her breast attended to, then why in the name of human decency do you not insure that care rather than tell her to take her malignant mass somewhere else?

As for Congressman Hill, his Democratic opponent, Clarke Tucker, took him to task at the first of these news conferences. It was on the basis of Hill's support of the Republican bill that would have repealed Obamacare and removed federally mandated equity for persons with pre-existing conditions. That would have left those with pre-existing conditions to the crapshoot of what their states might deign to provide.

Tucker presented Matt DeCample, former press secretary to Mike Beebe.

DeCample has a rare cancer requiring intensive treatment. He told of going into business for himself and switching to individual insurance on the Obamacare exchange. He said his expensive cancer never even got mentioned as he worked with an agent to purchase health insurance at the same premium anyone else would pay.

It's that comforting assurance of federally mandated equitable coverage that is a godsend to cancer patients. A man enduring dozens of chemotherapy treatments doesn't need to worry about skyrocketing premiums or whether his policy will cover the treatment he just received or the one his doctors next propose.

That comforting assurance is precisely what Hill's vote would have left to the discretion of high-risk pools in ... well ... states like Arkansas. That vote and the political thinking that demands it ... mean is the only word.

Do you know who else called the House passage of that measure "mean?" Donald Trump did, a few weeks after he praised and celebrated its passage. That he almost always doesn't know what he's talking about doesn't mean he wasn't right once.


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 09/16/2018

Print Headline: Why you gotta be so mean?


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  • BoudinMan
    September 16, 2018 at 8:38 a.m.

    Tucker should highlight that frat boy pep rally the repugs, and Frenchie, held after they voted to take away health care insurance from millions of Americans. I can see Frenchie's response: Nancy Pelosi.

  • Knuckleball1
    September 16, 2018 at 9:17 a.m.

    The party in controll wants all the money for Tax Breaks for the Rich.. They don't care about Grandpa and Grandma... They talk a Good Game but when the Votes Count they Vote for the Rich...

  • RobertBolt
    September 16, 2018 at 9:26 a.m.

    Ironically, many of these religious conservatives demand for themselves every desperate, life-extending treatment possible, regardless of cost, but seek to deny essential treatment to others (ostensibly to save money but mainly in order to punish the unemployed) until they require expensive emergency care.

  • NoUserName
    September 16, 2018 at 10:17 a.m.

    Give me a break. Those kicked off are young, able-bodied, with NO dependents. It really isn't too much to ask for those people to actually work or otherwise do something. After all, they are people who SHOULD be working. And if you qualify for an exemption, it isn't too much to ask to report it. After all, how did you f'n sign up for it in the first place?

  • Foghorn
    September 16, 2018 at 10:46 a.m.

    NUN - How do you know ‘those kicked off are young, able-bodied with NO dependents?’ I haven’t seen any analysis re demographics of those who lost coverage. Please enlighten me.

  • PopMom
    September 16, 2018 at 10:53 a.m.

    Great column.


    Brummett gave you a great example of people who may be too sick to work and indeed too sick to click the computer button saying that they are too sick to work and may be too sick to visit government offices and deal with bureaucrats. (I thought that the Republicans are against government bureaucracies.) I have a 17 year old with a preexisting condition. French Hill wants it so that when my child goes to work after college, the insurance company at his place of work can say "Joe cannot have coverage for this preexisting condition." The Republicans also are against him having any access to public coverage. It is a nightmare situation which can affect millions of Americans. It will never affect French Hill because Congresspeople always vote themselves the best insurance which cannot be taken away. Most of them are just a bunch of crooks servicing the special interests.

  • RBear
    September 16, 2018 at 10:55 a.m.

    NUN can you provide evidence? You make a lot of claims that require evidence. Otherwise, they are just fictitious claims.

  • NoUserName
    September 16, 2018 at 11:35 a.m.

    Oh christ. Those that SHOULD HAVE BEEN KICKED OFF were able-bodied, no dependents, young. Better? The info of who wasn't exempt this first pass is clearly findable on the website of this fine newspaper in previously reported articles. Somebody too sick to work is exempt, Pop. And if they can't report it, how do they get to the doctor? I don't think it's too much to ask that somebody in their 20s and 30s who supports no one and isn't disabled needs to work or otherwise volunteer for free government assistance.

  • RobertBolt
    September 16, 2018 at 11:45 a.m.

    And the answer is . . . just making stuff up.

  • mrcharles
    September 16, 2018 at 12:01 p.m.

    John, are you plumb out of your mind. Like asking why a great white shark does what it does. Mindless mind, souless dark eyes, just made to snuff out others.
    For some quirk in evolution some talking primates still retain enough lesser ape dna to use power to get what they want & killing can be made justifiable with just spouting incantations.

    From the shores of twisted logic to the plains of fear of "others", they are unhappy creatures and like in Arkansas, they do their best to make existence miserable for all. So far they have made us 49 in being unhappy. Reich wingers are so weird they think that is good.
    Thank you trumpette's.