LITTLE ROCK — Congressional Republicans’ proposal to repeal and replace much of former President Barack Obama’s health-care law is “inadequate” for Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Friday.
Hutchinson discussed the bill, as well as issues currently being debated in the Arkansas Legislature, during a talk to the Political Animals Club in Little Rock.
“We’ve got a House proposal that is inadequate from an Arkansas standpoint,” he told the club. “It shifts too much cost to the state for health care. It will not fully cover all those that we are covering now. It does not give the states the level of flexibility that we’d like to have.”
The proposal would shift $370 billion in Medicaid costs to the states, end federal funding for Medicaid expansion for low-income adults in 2020 — more than 3000,000 are enrolled in Arkansas’ program — and impose a per-capita cap on Medicaid reimbursement.
“If you divide up our Medicaid dollars and divide them by the number of people we serve in Arkansas, it’s a fairly low number compared to New York or California or Florida because they have a very expensive Medicaid program,” Hutchinson said. “They have spent more, so their per-capita level is higher.”
The governor said he would prefer a block grant that Arkansas would have discretion in using.
“Even though I point out these flaws in the House plan, that doesn’t mean it should not come out,” Hutchinson said. “What we have right now in the Affordable Care Act is not working for Arkansas. We have got to be able to change it.”
Hutchinson announced Monday he will seek federal waivers to add a work requirement to Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion program and lower the maximum income level for eligibility from 138 percent of the federal poverty level to 100 percent. He said Friday the House plan is not clear on whether it would give states that degree of flexibility.
The governor also said he supports a bill in the state Legislature that would allow concealed handguns to be carried at colleges, bars, airports, polling places, athletic events, most state offices and the state Capitol.
Originally, House Bill 1249 by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, would have required state colleges and universities to allow faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns on campus if they have concealed-carry permits.
The bill passed in that form in the House, but the Senate on Thursday adopted an amendment by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, the governor’s nephew, to allow anyone age 21 or older who has a concealed-carry permit to complete eight hours of additional training and become authorized to carry a gun on a college campus and many other places.
Hutchinson asked the audience members to indicate by a show of hands how many believed guns should not be allowed on college campuses. The vast majority raised their hands.
“All right, this audience does not reflect the mood of the Arkansas General Assembly,” Hutchinson said, to laughter.
“We have a conservative Legislature, and so my criteria has always been that if you’re going to have firearms in a sensitive area, and I consider college campuses a sensitive area, that you ought to have more training than the average concealed-carry permit holder has,” he said. “And so I have fought and stood firm for additional training that is included in the bill.”
Hutchinson also said he supports HB 1726 and HB 1727, both by Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, which are aimed at raising more than $200 million annually for highway maintenance.
HB 1726 would ask voters in November 2018 to allow the state Highway Commission to issue bonds for 20 years. HB 1727 would ask voters, either in November 2018 or in a special election called by the governor, to approve a 6.5 percent state sales tax on the wholesale price — excluding state and federal excise taxes — of gasoline and diesel.
“It is my view that if we’re going to have a new tax plan, that it should be voted on by the people of Arkansas,” Hutchinson said.