Much has been said and written in recent weeks about passage of the "private option" healthcare plan, by the Arkansas General Assembly, which aims to increase healthcare coverage for low income Arkansans. Some have said that those voting for the private option are guilty of implementing Obamacare, while others have said that the private option is a conservative, market-based plan that turns Obamacare on its head.
It is important, however, that we take a step back and look at what the private option plan actually does, instead of arguing over whether it implements Obamacare or it doesn’t.
Make no mistake, the organization I lead, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, has had concerns about the implementation of Obamacare since its initial passage. In fact, in February of 2012, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Arkansas joined 14 other state chambers and business organizations from across the nation in filing an amicus brief in a U.S. Supreme Court case challenging the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Our court challenge questioned the constitutionality of the PPACA, and asserted that the uncertainty created by this law was having drastic and detrimental effects on businesses across America, and ultimately the state of our economy.
While the PPACA was not ruled unconstitutional in its entirety, the Supreme Court did rule that the Federal government could not force the states to expand Medicaid as the act stated, but said that each state could make their own determination on whether to do so.
And with that new responsibility came a tremendous opportunity for Arkansas. After obtaining preliminary approval to create a healthcare expansion model that best serves Arkansas, members on both sides of the political aisle including Sen. David Sanders, Rep. Douglas House and Rep. Mark Lowery took advantage of this unique and special opportunity to help address healthcare coverage needs for low-income Arkansans by crafting a plan rooted in private insurance coverage – not government controlled healthcare.
The model, referred to as the "Private Option," has tremendous benefits for Arkansas because it reforms and revolutionizes our state’s Medicaid program, increases coverage to Arkansans that need it, ensures the viability of our rural hospitals, clinics and other healthcare providers, and spares Arkansas businesses from tens of millions of dollars in expected fines, taxes and penalties. The legislation also institutes new business-friendly innovations within the Medicaid-eligible population by creating a preferred Health Savings Account pilot program that could revolutionize how these patients receive care.
Furthermore, by increasing enrollment in the private insurance market and encouraging competition in the health insurance marketplace, our hope is that we will see more Arkansans obtain healthcare coverage and ultimately lower costs for all Arkansans who utilize those services.
There is no question that a healthier workforce means a more productive workforce. And without question, healthy workers are a great economic development tool for recruiting new jobs to our state. On behalf of our 1200-plus members from across the state, I want to thank Sen. Sanders, Rep. House and Rep. Lowery for enacting important reforms to the Medicaid system, eliminating costly taxes and penalties on businesses, and increasing healthcare coverage through private insurance by voting to support the private option plan.
Randy Zook is the President and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Arkansas. For further information, contact Zook, 372-2222.
[Editors note: Sen. Jane English did not vote for the legislation.]