LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe on Wednesday drew a comparison between defunding Arkansas’ so-called private option and cancelling health insurance policies under the federal Affordable Care Act.
In a talk to the Political Animals Club, Beebe referred to President Obama’s promise that people who liked their insurance could keep it, for which he was widely criticized after insurers began notifying some customers that their plans could not be renewed because they did not comply with the Affordable Care Act. Obama later said those people could keep their plans for an additional year after the plans would have expired.
"A lot of them who are opposed (to the Affordable Care Act) said you can’t tell somebody something and then go back on it," Beebe said. "If you take (the private option) away now after over 100,000 people are getting this health care, you’re going to tell them July 1 it stops, we’re going to take it away from you, then the very people that argued not to go back on stuff will sound hypocritical if they did that very same thing to over 100,000 Arkansans."
The 100,000 figure is an estimate of how many people may be participating in the private option, the state’s program to use federal Medicaid money to provide private health insurance to low-income Arkansans, by the time the Legislature convenes in February.
Talking to reporters after his talk, Beebe said "hypocritical" may not be the right word because the two situations are not the same, but he said they are analogous.
"It’s analogous to people relying on and believing that they were going to get this health care and acting accordingly — signing up and doing all those things. And if they lose it, it’s analogous to folks being able to rely on the attitude that they weren’t going to lose their previous insurance and then that not being true," he said.
House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, who favors defunding the private option, said Wednesday the two situations are not analogous.
Westerman said legislators who originally voted against the private option are simply being consistent by opposing renewed appropriation of federal funding for it. He also defended legislators who voted for it but may be considering casting a "no" vote in the coming session.
"If people look at what’s transpired since the last session and they see things they don’t like about the way the private option was implemented or the way Obamacare in general was implemented, think I think they’re being prudent if they reassess," he said.
Westerman also said defunding the private option is not analogous to the cancellation of insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act because when legislators approved the private option "they specifically said in the bill that it’s not an entitlement and it can be stopped."
The Health Care Independence Act of 2013, also known as the private option, states that "the program is not a perpetual federal or state right or a guaranteed entitlement."
Beebe said he was referring to the law’s sunset in 2017 if not extended by the General Assembly. He said that while legislators were debating the private option in last year’s regular session, "they were talking about three years."