John Lyon of Stephens Media reports on the strong objections of top state officials to Rep. Nate Bell’s successful amendment to prohibit state spending of any sort on efforts to inform the public about expanded health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act and Arkansas’s private option version of the expansion of Medicaid provided by the federal law.

John Selig
, director of Human Services, and Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford both say it’s bad policy. But they say the alternative, defeat of reauthorization of the program is worse because it would end help for 100,000 people newly covered. We don’t know, but most take Bell at his word, that the House couldn’t reauthorize the program without this and some other mean-spirited or valueless amendments. They include requiring co-pays on health care by people making as little as $6,000 a year and encouragement of health savings accounts, virtually worthless to poor people.

Bradford said ending outreach on the marketplace surely would put a damper on enrollment. He said the department has not made any projections yet on what the impact would be.

“It might take us a little longer to get there because we don’t have those methods there to educate people,” he said. “But as long as the private option stays in effect, it’s going to not only mean a lot to working Arkansans, especially young people, young families, (but also) the fact that they’re in the private insurance system helps everybody.”

Give U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor credit. He faces a re-election campaign in which he must own the Affordable Care Act, which should be a good thing in poor Arkansas given all the benefits to the state. But Republicans believe, with some past votes to prove it, that linking any politician to Barack Obama and his health care expansion is sure political poison.

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I award additional credit points to Pryor for remarking at a news conference Friday that he didn’t like amendment added by Bell. 

The private option is Arkansas’ program that uses federal Medicaid money to provide private health insurance to people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. As of Feb. 6, 96,950 Arkansans had obtained coverage through the program, according to the state Department of Human Services.

“I’m not really supportive of cutting back on advertising and outreach for it, because what you’re trying to do under the Medicaid expansion is get people private insurance coverage, and if you really do want to get people private insurance coverage, why would you want to stop promoting it? Why would you stop advertising for it?” said Pryor

Answer: To begin killing the program, which Bell has said is his objective.

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Time for the Dumas option: Declare Medicaid a necessary expense of government. Call the roll and declare it passed by a simple majority vote.