CREDIT: AP Photo/Danny Johnston
Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) insists that he wants to repeal Obamacare, despite the fact that the health law’s Medicaid expansion is currently providing coverage for thousands of low-income residents who previously lacked insurance. But when it comes to the logistics of kicking an estimated 150,000 people off of their current health plans, Cotton isn’t willing to go into specifics, saying only that Arkansas’ Medicaid program is a “state-based issue” and refusing to take a firm position on it.
The Arkansas Times’ David Ramsey recently asked Cotton whether he thought the state’s “private option” — a compromise between the state’s Republican lawmakers, Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, and the Obama administration that allows Arkansan to give low-income residents a subsidy to buy private insurance — was the right decision to make. But Cotton, who is currently running for a Senate seat, didn’t really answer.
“The private option is a state-based issue,” he said. “Once we repeal Obamacare, Arkansas, like every state, will address its own needs, hopefully with a Medicaid system that has been returned to them and lets them address their needs for the entire state.”
In fact, what Cotton is describing sounds a lot like how Obamacare currently works. After the Supreme Court ruled Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion to be optional, the federal government has worked closely with each state to allow them to experiment with individualized solutions for implementing this provision. Health and Human Services Secretary Katheleen Sebelius, who has a long history of reaching across the aisle, gave deeply red states the flexibility to craft policies like Arkansas’ private option.
Cotton’s own state is a primary example of exactly the type of local flexibility he wants. When the federal government approved Arkansas’ plan last year, it paved the way for additional GOP-led states to come up with their own alternatives to traditional Medicaid expansion. Conservative lawmakers in Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Utah have been inspired to pursue similar expansion plans.
Arkansas, which used to have one of the highest uninsured rates in the nation, has been particularly successful when it comes to enrolling its residents in Medicaid. So many previously uninsured residents have gained coverage, the state’s free health clinics are beginning to close because they don’t have patients to serve anymore.
Since Cotton has yet to release a detailed alternative to providing those people with health coverage, his position on Obamacare essentially amounts to kicking more than 150,000 Arkansas residents off their plans. However, anti-Obamacare lawmakers are sometimes candid about the fact that their opposition to the health law trumps their obligation to provide coverage for their constituents. Earlier this year, Cotton’s colleague Rep. Nate Bell (R) acknowledged that he wants fewer uninsured residents to learn about their options under Obamacare because it’s simply too expensive to provide them with coverage.
Cotton isn’t the first Republican to dodge question about Medicaid expansion now that it’s in place. Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R), who’s currently running for a Senate seat in New Hampshire, has also recently declined to give a straight answer about his position on the health law’s expansion of the public program.