Tuesday, State Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford was in town as a guest speaker at the Conway Regional Women’s Council’s 2nd Annual State of Health Luncheon.
Bradford spoke about the upcoming vote for the Medicaid appropriation bill Feb. 1. The bill will provide funding for a private option.
Bradford is traveling around the state talking to various groups about the Arkansans who will be positively affected by expanding Medicaid.
For him, Bradford says, it is almost a religious obligation to take care of people who cannot afford health insurance.
“It is at our fingertips to do so,” he said.
Bradford said some people are letting politics affect the way they see the bill and in effect they “punish innocent people because [they] don’t like Obamacare” or “punish our hospitals and our providers because [they] disagree with something that happened 1,800 miles away.”
“To me to take a negative step like that, that has a tremendous effect on the people back home and a tremendous effect on this institution that you support (Conway Regional), to me that is a religious issue no matter what religion you are — that to me is a serious moral issue,” he said.
Bradford says there’s so much misinformation about the Affordable Care Act that people call his office frightened about losing their Medicare benefits.
It doesn’t affect Medicare, but what it does do is bring savings to Arkansas hospitals, he said.
Arkansas is the only state in the South that has elected to privatize the Medicaid expansion, Bradford said.
Arkansans currently covered under Medicaid include pregnant women up until two months after their baby is born, children under age 19, elderly people in a nursing home and people who are severely disabled or sick.
The expansion will include people who are 138 percent below the Federal Poverty Line, including people with existing conditions.
“There is a segment of varying groups of people who are working — who are producing for their families, maybe in meager ways — their only pathway for more success — and none of these people have been covered under Medicaid before,” Bradford said.
The state is now in the process of identifying individuals who are138 percent below the Federal Poverty Line.
In Arkansas, 138 percent below the Federal Poverty Line is an income of $15,000 a year for an individual and $35,000 a year for a family of four.
“In our state that catches a tremendous amount of people,” Bradford said.
These salary ranges could include a young person who graduated from the University of Central Arkansas and hasn’t yet found a job, he said, or someone just out of high school or a person who has an entry level position.
“When you make $15,000 a year, you’re paying for your apartment, your basic needs, paying your bills, paying for food, paying for diapers — now tell me where in that scenario you can afford to pay $700 to $800 a month for health insurance,” Bradford asked.
The privatization of Medicaid allows young people to take federal funds and purchase insurance from a state insurance company through the federal exchange with the same benefits as a privatized insurance company.
“It fills a tremendous gap for the provider,” Bradford said.
Last year, hospitals “charged off” more than $11 billion, he said, and that segment comes from people who can’t afford insurance.
“If you don’t expand Medicaid you’re going to have a tremendous loss because the federal cuts to hospitals are designed on the basis of more people having insurance,” Bradford said.
Bradford said it is the health care industry’s responsibility to talk to their representatives before they vote on this issue Feb. 1.
“It is incumbent for you all to talk to the people you send to the capital to represent your interest and explain how very, very important this is,” he said.
(Staff writer Michelle Corbet can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1215. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)