I’ve done a couple of items on the mean-spirited, misguided, pointless, grandstanding bill from Rep. Donnie Copeland, which requires state bureaucrats to send a confusing, alarming, and misleading letter to poor Arkansans. The letter will tell private option beneficiaries that their health care coverage is ending, even though that’s almost certainly not true, and even though a Task Force explicitly tasked with coming up with coverage options for current beneficiaries hasn’t even begun to meet. As policy, it’s utter nonsense, bureaucratic busy-body B.S.  

The meaningless letter will accomplish absolutely nothing other than to impose a minor administrative burden and scare folks for no reason. Out-of-touch politicians like Copeland don’t care, of course.  It’s much more important to engage in petty political posturing — to get the opportunity to lie and say that this measure is doing something to fight Obamacare or kill the private option — than it is to actually think through enacting good policy. If an empty gesture harms the least powerful citizens they represent, no biggie. 

Copeland’s bill has passed the House and Senate and is expected to be signed by the governor. I’ve seen some private option opponents laud this as a victory, which really exposes the sad, gasping tactics of the bitter enders. This letter will put absolutely no pressure on the Task Force one way or the other. This letter will do nothing to help beneficiaries prepare for the bitter enders’ hoped-for outcome of taking their insurance away. It will do absolutely nothing to mitigate the moral argument against doing so. It’s just for show. 

Sen. Joyce Elliot and Rep. Deborah Ferguson sponsored a bill, SB943, to at least inform beneficiaries, when they receive this confusing letter, that there is a Task Force working to develop a plan to come up with other options. The bill’s language is a bit vague, but will hopefully encourage the Department of Human Services to give some context when they send this confusing and utterly pointless letter (that just because this thing that has the name “private option” is going to end at the end of 2016, that does not mean that their health insurance coverage is ending). The bill passed the Senate yesterday and passed out of House committee this morning. 

Sending a letter of this kind still makes absolutely no sense, but making clear to beneficiaries that they will be informed about coverage options is at least a little better than simply going with full-on scare tactics that they are losing their insurance. So Elliot and Ferguson are to be applauded for putting at least a little lipstick on this pig. Still, I think it’s worth bearing in mind that most beneficiaries are not following the policy details or the political drama closely. They’re going to get a letter that says their insurance ends! Then they’re going to get a lot of gobbledygook about other options, which won’t be specific because the Task Force hasn’t even met yet. Many of these folks are navigating insurance coverage for the first time, and the privatized version of Medicaid already creates some additional layers of bureaucratic confusion. Some will likely be confused about whether their coverage is still in place upon receiving the letter. Almost none of them will be following the debate closely enough to understand that this is merely a political statement: “the Health Care Independence Program ends on Dec. 31, 2016.” That sounds like their coverage is ending, when in fact, though the “program” will end, the Task Force is charged with continuing their coverage.

To understand how incredibly silly Copeland’s letter is, it’s worth comparing the situation to the private sector. No insurance company would ever, ever send a letter to customers which said, “in two years it’s possible your plan will be cancelled, but maybe there will be other options, but we’re still figuring out what those might be.” Only a politician like Copeland could come up with such a convoluted bureaucratic mess, a kind of shrine to bad practices. Only a politician who doesn’t think of the lives he’s impacting, but rather thinks of how good it will feel to pat himself on the back.