Gu­ber­na­to­rial de­bate

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - MICHAEL R. WICKLINE

Gov. Asa Hutchin­son (left) shakes hands with Demo­cratic chal­lenger Jared Henderson dur­ing a gu­ber­na­to­rial de­bate Fri­day in Con­way that also in­cluded Lib­er­tar­ian can­di­date Mark West (right). Hutchin­son and Henderson sparred over Hutchin­son’s Med­i­caid work re­quire­ment and Henderson’s crim­i­nal-jus­tice plan.

CON­WAY — Repub­li­can Gov. Asa Hutchin­son and Demo­cratic chal­lenger Jared Henderson dis­agreed Fri­day whether scrap­ping Hutchin­son’s work re­quire­ment for the Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion pro­gram would kill sup­port for the pro­gram in the Leg­is­la­ture.

They also sparred over Henderson’s pro­posed crim­i­nal jus­tice over­haul that’s aimed at sav­ing money in the long run.

Along with Lib­er­tar­ian can­di­date Mark West of Batesville, Hutchin­son of Rogers and Henderson of Lit­tle Rock de­bated for an hour at the Ar­kan­sas Ed­u­ca­tional Tele­vi­sion Net­work here in their sec­ond de­bate of the cam­paign. The pro­gram was to air Fri­day night.

Henderson, a for­mer state direc­tor of the Teach for Amer­ica pro­gram, said Hutchin­son has cre­ated a new bu­reau­cracy and a part­time web­site “to put be­tween some of our cit­i­zens and ac­cess to health care.”

Hutchin­son’s ad­min­is­tra­tion im­posed a work re­quire­ment on many of the nearly 260,000 peo­ple cov­ered by the state’s ver­sion of Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion for low-in­come Arkansans. Henderson re­ferred to a re­quire­ment that par­tic­i­pants must log in at a state web­site to show they are work­ing, go­ing to school or vol­un­teer­ing, or

else lose cov­er­age.

“I am all for able-bod­ied peo­ple work­ing and do­ing their part, but I think that ac­cess to health in­sur­ance is an en­abler of that, not an in­hibitor,” Henderson said. He said 16,000 peo­ple are on track to be dropped from the pro­gram and, if that hap­pens, it could put the sur­vival of some ru­ral hos­pi­tals at risk, and in­crease the cost of health in­sur­ance to make up for the in­creased un­com­pen­sated care pro­vided by doc­tors, nurses and other health care pro­fes­sion­als.

Hutchin­son de­fended the work re­quire­ment that was im­ple­mented this sum­mer with the ap­proval of a waiver from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. He sug­gested that re­mov­ing the re­quire­ment would mean the death of the Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion pro­gram in the Repub­li­can-ma­jor­ity Leg­is­la­ture.

“The peo­ple of Ar­kan­sas sup­port this kind of work re­quire­ment for able-bod­ied in­di­vid­u­als … and Mr. Henderson’s idea would cost us a lot,” he said. “First of all, to say that some­one who is able-bod­ied shouldn’t have to be work­ing when they don’t have de­pen­dent chil­dren adds to that bur­den and that gen­er­a­tional poverty. We want to move them to work.

“Sec­ondly, un­der Mr. Henderson’s pro­posal, there would be over 250,000 peo­ple that would lose their health in­sur­ance … be­cause with­out that work re­quire­ment, we will not have the sup­port of the Ar­kan­sas Leg­is­la­ture and the Ar­kan­sas pub­lic,” Hutchin­son said. “They would lose their in­sur­ance. The whole pro­gram would die. The work re­quire­ment is the right bal­ance.”

Henderson coun­tered, “I sim­ply don’t agree that the ma­jor­ity of the Ar­kan­sas pub­lic doesn’t sup­port help­ing some of our most vul­ner­a­ble cit­i­zens have ac­cess to health care.

“And I think when the gover­nor talks about get­ting sup­port from the Leg­is­la­ture, he is think­ing about Med­i­caid through the same po­lit­i­cal lens that he has prob­a­bly thought about it for 30 years as a big govern­ment ver­sus small govern­ment prob­lem,” he said. “And if we want to spend less on Med­i­caid, I think all of us up here do, it is not by throw­ing peo­ple off or cre­at­ing ob­sta­cles. It’s about solv­ing the un­der­ly­ing prob­lem.”

If the state could cut teenage preg­nancy by 30 per­cent to 50 per­cent in a five- or 10-year pe­riod, it would be spend­ing dra­mat­i­cally less on Med­i­caid and won’t leave a sin­gle vul­ner­a­ble cit­i­zen be­hind in the process, Henderson said.

But Hutchin­son said, “Mr. Henderson raised the point that some­how that we are go­ing to mag­i­cally get the Leg­is­la­ture to ap­prove 250,000 be­ing on the ex­panded Med­i­caid when we don’t have re­form mea­sures like the work re­quire­ment.”

He said a three-fourths vote of the Leg­is­la­ture is re­quired to reau­tho­rize the use of state and fed­eral dol­lars for the Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion in each fis­cal year.

“This is where it is not a prac­ti­cal so­lu­tion to say we are go­ing to do away with the work re­quire­ment,” the gover­nor said.

Af­ter­ward, Henderson said it was “a ridicu­lous claim” to sug­gest that do­ing away with the work re­quire­ment would kill the pro­gram.

“I don’t see why we can­not con­tinue to keep ex­panded Med­i­caid with­out his In­ter­net re­quire­ment,” he said. “I un­der­stand the po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties he is talk­ing about. But if I am elected gover­nor, I am go­ing to go with Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors and we’ll go county to county. We’ll go in their hos­pi­tals. They will hear from their own doc­tors and pa­tients and cit­i­zens how much they de­pend upon Med­i­caid. It would be sui­cide in a lot of our com­mu­ni­ties to cut it back.”

West, who is cor­po­rate of­fice man­ager for Me­chan­i­cal Con­struc­tion Ser­vices in Ne­wark, said, “The state should not be in­volved in pro­vid­ing health care to peo­ple. What this does is it robs the state of Ar­kan­sas be­cause so many of our cit­i­zens are peo­ple who be­lieve in char­ity.”

Hutchin­son said he wants to con­tinue to cre­ate jobs, “build a trans­porta­tion sys­tem that is sec­ond to none” and im­prove teacher pay from $31,800 to $36,000 a year. He also wants to re­or­ga­nize state govern­ment in the next four years.

Henderson has pro­posed rais­ing min­i­mum teacher salary from $31,800 to $48,090 over a 10-year pe­riod at to­tal pro­jected cost of about $870 mil­lion over that time.

“Mr. Henderson has an­other plan that says we’ll pay for teacher pay in­creases by let­ting out 20 per­cent of our prison pop­u­la­tion,” Hutchin­son said. “Let me tell you that if you let thou­sands and thou­sands out of prison ar­bi­trar­ily with­out a plan, then you are go­ing to wind up in­creas­ing the dan­ger to our so­ci­ety. That’s not the right way. We got a bet­ter plan to pay for the in­crease in teacher pay,” he said, re­fer­ring to his plan that would ul­ti­mately cost $60 mil­lion a year.

In re­sponse, Henderson said, “I think Gov. Hutchin­son just be­came the first sit­ting Ar­kan­sas gover­nor to say our state is not ca­pa­ble of match­ing the achieve­ments of Mis­sis­sippi.

“Gov. Hutchin­son just crit­i­cized my crim­i­nal jus­tice plan that I re­leased last week,” Henderson said. “I pro­posed do­ing what Mis­sis­sippi has al­ready done over the last eight years. Over the last eight years, Mis­sis­sippi has cut their prison pop­u­la­tion by 18 per­cent. Crime has dropped down. They al­ready have saved $30 mil­lion. They are on track to save a quar­ter of a bil­lion over the next decade.”

Hutchin­son said Mis­sis­sippi has a bur­geon­ing prison pop­u­la­tion be­cause “they had put in truth-in-sen­tenc­ing” and “they had en­hanced their penal­ties” and “started im­ple­ment­ing the re­forms that we have al­ready im­ple­mented in Ar­kan­sas, so Mr. Henderson’s talk about Mis­sis­sippi is not re­ally not ap­pli­ca­ble here.”

West said the state should re­lease peo­ple con­victed of drug-re­lated of­fenses from prison and tran­si­tion them back into so­ci­ety.

Ar­kan­sas Demo­crat-Gazette/MITCHELL PE MASILUN

Ar­kan­sas Demo­crat-Gazette/MITCHELL PE MASILUNThe three can­di­dates for gover­nor, Repub­li­can Gov. Asa Hutchin­son, (from left) Demo­crat Jared Henderson and Lib­er­tar­ian Mark West, fin­ish their de­bate Fri­day at the Uni­ver­sity of Cen­tral Ar­kan­sas in Con­way.

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