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Arkansas Lawmaker Admits He Just Wants Fewer Uninsured People To Sign Up For Health Care

By Tara Culp-Ressler  

"Arkansas Lawmaker Admits He Just Wants Fewer Uninsured People To Sign Up For Health Care"

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Arkansas Rep. Nate Bell (R)

Arkansas Rep. Nate Bell (R)

CREDIT: AP Photo/Danny Johnston

During a political fight over Medicaid expansion in Arkansas on Tuesday, one Republican lawmaker admitted that he doesn’t want to educate uninsured residents about their new health care options because it’s simply too expensive to provide them with insurance.

State Rep. Nate Bell (R), who offered an amendment to Arkansas’ proposed Medicaid expansion bill that would prevent the state from using federal funds to promote Obamacare, acknowledged that his policy would result in fewer people signing up for health care. He noted that “without active marketing, you probably get declining enrollment.” But in his mind, that’s not a problem — that’s the whole point.

“We’re trying to create a barrier to enrollment,” Bell explained, noting that lower enrollment ultimately translates to lower costs. “In general, as a conservative, if I have the opportunity to reduce government spending in a program from what’s projected… I’m probably going to take that deal.”

Bell’s amendment would prohibit Arkansas from advertising Obamacare plans through television, radio, print, or online ads. It also prevents the state from using federal funds to conduct direct mailing campaigns — which, as the Arkansas Times’ David Ramsey notes, has been critical in getting out the word about the state’s Medicaid expansion. Since Arkansas is pursuing a “private option” for Medicaid, which essentially gives residents a subsidy to purchase private insurance, the process for enrolling in a Medicaid plan is very similar to the process for signing up for a plan on Obamacare’s new state-level exchange.

Preventing Americans from getting all the facts about the health reform law is a popular method of undermining Obamacare, particularly in red states. Republicans have repeatedly targeted “navigators,” the people tasked with helping Americans enroll in new plans, to prevent them from being able to easily do their jobs. And conservative states that are opposed to Obamacare have allocated considerably less money to promote it. It’s no surprise, then, that the people who live in GOP-led states are less likely to understand how to sign up for health care.

Those states are also more likely to have higher populations of low-income people who lack insurance. In Arkansas specifically, the uninsurance rate is among the highest in the nation. Efforts to expand health care in the state are actually projected to save money in the long run because they’ll cut down on the cost of uncompensated care; the Medicaid expansion could save taxpayers as much as $90 million this year.

Nonetheless, Arkansas lawmakers are currently debating whether to kick thousands of low-income people off of their new Medicaid plans. Even though the state began implementing its “private option” last year, and an estimated 96,000 people have already enrolled, the legislature is currently debating whether to approve the policy. And if lawmakers like Bell have their way, even the move to preserve Medicaid expansion may still come at a significant cost.

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