Friday, June 10, 2011

EDITORIAL >>What Darr doesn’t know

Lt. Gov. Mark Darr wanted us all to know this week that he is still planning to sue the federal government to prevent it from implementing the health-insurance reform law in Arkansas just as he promised in his campaign last year. Whether you are for or against him on that exercise, there is no reason to get excited. It is a fool’s errand, as good minds have told him, and nothing will come of it.

Darr as yet does not know what the health-insurance law does, although it has been two years since it passed. This week, he still thought that the law would force him to help the employees at his pizza parlors in northwest Arkansas buy health insurance, but it won’t.

If he were to somehow succeed, people who have gotten new help paying for their drugs under Medicare since last fall and will get more help each year would go back to paying. They would have to pay for cancer and breast screenings again. Kids would go off their parents’ policies before the age of 26. But it will not happen.

The health-insurance law was terribly unpopular in Arkansas when it passed in 2009. People were told that it was going to slash their Medicare benefits and they were outraged. Polls showed people over 55 opposed it by 3 to 1. Since then, most of them have discovered that none of that was true. Their Medicare coverage is expanding, not shrinking.

But Republicans are suing around the country to get the courts to overturn the law based on a different part of it—the old Republican plan to require people who do not have insurance to buy a private health policy, with government help. That was the Republican plan to achieve universal health coverage in the 1970s and again in the 1990s, the periods when there were drives to expand health coverage. Sen. Barack Obama opposed mandated coverage, but he was persuaded in 2009 that the Republicans were right, that it was the only way to achieve universal coverage without a totally government-run and -paid system like Medicare. So that was made a part of the law in the House and Senate.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said this week that he had told Darr six months ago that contrary to what Darr had thought, the lieutenant governor does not have the authority to sue the federal government, or anyone, in the name of Arkansas taxpayers. And McDaniel was not going to do it himself as the attorney general because it would be both pointless and costly. Other people are suing, so the Arkansas suit would merely be an empty political gesture because the issue would be settled anyway. But Darr wanted to make that political gesture. He is thinking about running for governor in 2014.

Darr said he and the Republican lieutenant governor in Missouri were going to intervene as friends of the court in a lawsuit that is on appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at St. Louis. McDaniel said he had explained to Darr that he did not have “standing” to do that. Sure enough, a federal judge ruled recently that the Missouri lieutenant governor had no standing to intervene in the case because he had no direct interest in the implementation of the health law.

Darr said he has standing to sue because the law would force him to provide medical insurance for his pizza workers and he does not want to. He says he has about 45 full-time or part-time workers.

But the law would not apply to Darr. As a thousand articles about the law have explained, it exempts employers with fewer than 50 full-time workers. Most employers with more than 50 full-time workers would arrange a policy from an exchange of private insurers in Arkansas and help them pay for it or else pay an extra tax to support the health system.

Darr can continue to leave his workers unprotected forever. Starting in 2014, they would buy insurance themselves from the exchange, with substantial government help, or else pay a fee. But the law won’t cost Mark Darr a dime. His own insurance ultimately should become a little cheaper, when he will no longer have to indirectly subsidize the uncompensated hospital care of people without insurance, but that will be the law’s only effect on him.

But he will get some good publicity when an attorney files an intervention for him. When the judges throw it out or ignore it, no one will pay the slightest attention.