Monday, February 09, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Rep. Farrer is on board

Rep. Joe Farrer (R-Austin), having heard from his constituents, has dropped his opposition to Medicaid expansion for working-poor Arkansans and has co-sponsored the bill to continue the private option program for at least another year.

SB96, Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Health Care Reform Act of 2015, cruised through the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor subcommittee on a voice vote Tuesday, and the House easily passed the bill Thursday after it received overwhelming approval in the Senate the week before.

With a convert’s zeal, Farrer spoke out in favor of the bill before the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor subcommittee. The bill creates a 16-person legislative task force that will include the Surgeon General, Dr. Greg Bledsoe, and will study whether to end private option, continue it or continue it with changes that would make it more efficient and cost effective.

Farrer is expected to have a key role in the task force and could become an important spokesman for the federally funded program that has insured more than 220,000 Arkansans. The state has saved $69 million in just six months by reducing health-care costs for the working poor.

Farrer, a physical therapist who works at North Metro Medical Center in Jacksonville, understands the importance of additional Medicaid payments to community hospitals, which had written off hundreds of millions of dollars in health-care costs for the uninsured. North Metro will receive $1 million under the expansion, which could be the difference between keeping its doors open or shutting down.

Except for Rep. Donnie Copeland (R-North Little Rock), every legislator in the area has come on board in support of the expansion as championed by our new governor, who capped the week off by signing a middle-class tax cut bill. Copeland, who is a minister, is unconcerned about the future of community hospitals, although both St. Vincent Infirmary and Baptist Medical Center are in his district.

Let’s face it, Medicaid expansion is more of a subsidy for hospitals and insurance companies than it is for poor people who can’t afford health care. However the task force decides to tweak the program, it’s important to keep it going beyond two years, when the state assumes 5 percent of the cost and 10 percent in five years.

Despite our differences, Joe Farrer has always been a class act: He always returns our phone calls even when he’s busy at the legislature or fighting the flu. But when he and his task force review the program, they must ask themselves: How do you kick 220,000 or more Arkansans off the program two years from now? They probably won’t.