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Arkansas Week January 31, 2014

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(Health) Clean shaven or fuzzy, the private option and the push to preserve it. (Numbers) With days remaining before the session, what are it's demos? (Jobs, GDP) The nation's econometrics and Arkansas's... (Farm) ...including the ag sector, and the legislative breakthrough.

Transcript

Clean shaven or fuzzy, the private option and the push to preserve it. With days remaining before the session, what are its demos? The nation's econmetrics and Arkansas's& &including the ag sector, and the legislative breakthrough. Arkansas Week, next "Arkansas Week" is made possible in part by the "Arkansas Times" keeping you informed by covering people, events, and politics in Arkansas. By FM 89 KUAR Little Rock with in depth news reporting, analysis and discussion each weekday.

Hello again everyone. Thanks for joining us for Arkansas Week. Days remaining, only days remaining before the legislative session begins, the fiscal session where is where we begin tonight. Michael Hibblen joins us from KUAR and Rick Fahr an Independent Journalist in Conway and David Ramsey reporter for Arkansas Times and thanks for coming in. David, only days remaining before the session and the political stakes keep rising and so does the political rhetoric too.

Yeah, the big question going into the session is will the legislature reauthorize the funding for the private option and will require a super majority which is a difficult threshold and they appear to be one vote short and because of the special election for Paul Bookout's seat and they were campaigning for the private option and that lost a vote and Missy Irvin plans to vote again it and it's one vote short and that's the political drama do they have a way forward to continue to fund the policy? If they don't the coverage would end in the new fiscal year in July.

Plainly there are profoundly administrative concern judging Michael by Mr. Beebe's speaking and is constant but he's selling constantly.

And worth pointing out there are a couple of people that voted against the private option last year that actually might support it. He's not saying who those people are but clearly this is really close now and going to come out to the session yourself but you're right talking Wednesday to the Political Animals Club the Governor suggested there was --

And the Sheriff's Association as well.

The Sheriff's Association --

Every stop that's the theme.

Yeah but he suggested there is some hypocrisy and last year when some people's premiums were canceled because of The Affordable Care Act he's now saying if you have 100,000 people which is the estimate by the time the session begins on February 10, if you have 100,000 people now getting coverage through the private option if they lose it he's suggesting there is hypocrisy there. The house majority leader Bruce Westerman said they're not entirely analogous but clearly there's a lot of words being fired back and forth. The Governor also said that it will pretty much kill UAMS. That was his word on it. $28 million in funding would be cut to UAMS and again we're hearing word this would be devastating for small rural hospitals.

It might be a good time to pause David what are the latest numbers that we have, good numbers that we have both on private option and Medicaid expansion?

So basically there have been about 100,000 people deemed eligible for the private option, and I say that broadly speaking. Most people that are gaining eligibility are going into private plans. That's the whole idea of the private option. They're using Medicaid funds to purchase health insurance for low income Arkansans. A small number are going into the traditional Medicaid program. By design they're weeding out the medically needy people and the private plans don't have the resources to deal with that population. Also because it takes the unhealthiest people out of the marketplace so there are advantages there from a policy standpoint. With that said that pool of people gaining coverage that is around 100,000 and you have 120,000 plus applying and by the time they vote on this should be well over 100,000 people and I think that brings up the political question as Michael was mentioning part of what happened last year as The Affordable Care Act went into effect as any health care reform would do there was disruption and you had people losing their plans and we know in politics there is a status quo. People don't like losing something they have so the question is is the legislature prepared to take away health coverage for more than 100,000 people? Thinking nationally most observers have assumed that once states do the Medicaid expansion they will stick with it because of that reason but Arkansas is a test case and certainly forward going forward with the expansion the legislature may step back and means the loss of coverage for a lot of folks.

Another question about the demographics, who is going in, who is using the private option? There remains some concern.

Basically what is happening we have demographic information about the private option pool and the two things we know -- one it's tending toward female but the other thing it's much younger than the population on the marketplace as a whole, so this gets a little technical but I think it's important to distinguish, so you have across the country new marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act including in Arkansas so what we're seeing is the way that Arkansas is unique is Medicaid expansion sent folks below 138% of federal poverty and about $15,000 for an individual. That pool of low income Arkansans is going into the marketplace like everyone else. That pool is leaning much younger so that is good news for the market place. Generally younger people -- that correlates with healthier people and that could in the long run lead to lower premiums.

Other thing to keep in mind because of the private option and the website and other things going on in the federal level enrollment has really lagged so the best numbers that we have are through the end of December. The non private option marketplace -- you're only talking about 12,000 people so in terms of the sustainability of the marketplace both in terms of the younger population and the Director said based on the numbers the private option was bringing the median age down by 10 years and a younger population and you will have --

And less utilization.

Pulling out the medically needy folks and could be 80 to 90% of the marketplace is private option folks so in terms of the long-term sustainability of that marketplace having a healthy pool to have low premium prices and for carriers wanting to participate that brings up questions about what if you take that private option pool away and aside from the issue of people losing coverage just in terms of the marketplace the demographics that we have so far paint a picture of the private option being a success while the rest of the marketplace, the Healthcare.gov bit has had issues.

Politics are treacherous.

They are and as David said the estimates are a little more than 100,000 people signed up this in the future but right now there are 80,000 people signed up for the private option. Another 8,000 in the Medicaid pool so that is 88,000 people who would lose coverage if this bill doesn't get reauthorized.

Back to the pure politics of it guys. It would seem to be very difficult for someone who had voted for it to now -- at least who had a primary opponent, to go back and vote if the fiscal -- last year and then in the fiscal session to reverse themselves and then vote against it.

I think it's very fluid. I have talked to half a dozen house members who publicly voted for the appropriation last time and publicly saying they're leaning against it time. It's gamesmanship. Everyone wants something. The other thing to keep in mind the tough political questions for Republicans -- there was a poll done recently and found there is pretty broad support for the private option in the state and who knows if the public knows what it is and seems to have support but on the Republican side in the Republican primary there is anger about the private option and Senator Irvin is facing a primary challenge and the challenger Phil Grace and the press release and how she made betrayal and voted for the private option and bear in mind she released a statement saying she's not going to vote for it this time and that's a political question and are you flipping and this is very fluid. I think both sides expressing confidence. I think much like last year it's going to be an open question exactly what happens kind up to the last minute and you have maybe three-four swing votes in the Senate and maybe a dozen in the House and it's going to come down to them.

Is there a third way in this situation? Is there a way out for both sides?

I think the answer to that and probably yes and I wrote a big story about this and that's the conclusion I came to. I think there are among some of the folks that oppose the private option there is some skepticism there is a lot they can accomplish in this session and even if they block the appropriation it doesn't necessarily settle things and there are procedural hurdles in place and maybe not have the votes and there could be a stand off of the Medicaid budget as a whole, the DHS budget as a whole. The whole thing gets messy and there is interest from folks and Representative Bell who is a die hard opponent to the private option but are there tweaks are that can be made in this session and get the appropriation across the finish line, and I think there is interest on that on both sides so you might have a scenario where you have small changes -- I guess how big or small the changes will be up for debate but changes to the policy that will get potentially enough people on board. But it's fluid.

Yeah. Michael you want the last word on this one?

It's going to come down to the wire and the debate during the session and where the hearts of lawmakers go but the political considerations going into primaries that's a big factor as well.

These things can be an hour -- almost a minute by minute -- it's that fluid. Can the deals be cut?

One thing I will predict it will be minute to minute up to the last minute.

Okay. We waited months -- in fact years to get a deal on the Farm Bill. Rick. It appears that the House easily did it. The gentleman from the 4th District goes his own way.

That's right. The House passed a Farm Bill against Tom Cotton and running against Mark Pryor and now the bill will go to the Senate and expected to pass and what we ended up gaining through this bill is a very small dollar figure in terms of the overall bill in savings. This is a trillion dollar bill over 10 years and ultimately it will save in the order of 20 to $25 billion, a very small number in terms of the overall comprehensive practice. You remember food stamps, the Snap Program and nutritional programs have been a huge sticking point on this forever. House Republicans wanted $40 billion in savings over 10 years and Democrats wanted $4 billion and they will get close to that but still $8 billion over 10 years is a small percentage. It's 1 percent of the 800 billion that will spent on food stamps and nutrition programs over this time.

In fact in the Farm Bill Snap is most of the money.

If you think about pacman -- remember pacman was like a pizza with one slice cut out. That is the percentage, the full size, the percentage of what the programs are of the Farm Bill. It's 80% of the overall spending. Now people have theorized that Arkansans will not suffer any cuts because maybe Arkansas hasn't worked with some of the budget data like other states have. There is not as much fraud, waste and abuse in Arkansas as other places and they believe -- proponents they can find the savings through that. Now the of the side of the bill is a actually what we consider to be farm --

Farm related.

-- legislation, and basically this bill will end direct payments. If you're a farmer you get a check no matter what happens? That goes away. Replaced by two types of insurance programs. One -- and this is a simplistic view, but one would basically hedge your bet against a crop failure. The other would hedge the bet against the commodity prices falling at the market. The federal government will pay two thirds. The premium will pay the other third and you will have theoretical different levels of insurance. You can pay more or you can pay more or less. If you take away the direct payments and the increase it's not far off of a wash in terms of real dollars. Now how does this affect Arkansas farmers? In some ways the price supports that Arkansas rice farmers will be able to count on are fairly good numbers. The farmers I have talked to this week are fairly happy with those. The one thing that is worrisome the most to Arkansas farmers, the ones they have talked to at this moment, is the uncertainty of the bill getting done -- although it looks like it will be done fairly soon and how long will it take USDA to implement the procedures? Because we're a month away of farmers getting in the field and before that they need to go to a banker and get a crop loan and banks are going to be hesitant to give the money out until they know.

Underwriting the loan.

That's right and times are getting close but looks like we're almost finish with it and a net gain net loss Arkansas did not come out bad.

Okay. We will continue to monitor that. Now on to the econmetrics of the economy and homes sales are up and it's encouraging in Arkansas and we had a jobless report too but we were down a click or two.

Yeah the home sales from the Arkansas Realtors Association increased 17% compared to the year before. Prices were down 2% but that's still a good show of confidence when people buy that much of by that much of an increase are buying homes. In terms of unemployment it dipped slowly and compared to the national rate. For a good way Arkansas was doing better than the nation as a whole. We haven't seen quite the improvements that the rest of the nation has, but Arkansas has held pretty steady. The current rate from December is down 1/10 of a percentage point. The largest drop in jobs is with leisure and hospitality and trade and utilities and saw an increase of about 1600 jobs.

This time next week we will have the report on tax collections. Worth noting that fourth quarter GDP was pretty much on target 3% increase so we can hope for trickle down from that. Slowly the economy is getting better and you have a president who is getting absolutely no credit for it whatsoever whether you believe he deserves any or not.

I think part of that is the economy is getting better slowly and I think there is the hope for a more dramatic recovery given what's happen over the last six to eight years. Of course the reasons for that are topic for debate but I think as long as the economy is sluggish overall it hurts Obama.

Any thoughts on the state of the union and shifting politics. I can't see it moving in another direction.

And the politics and after watching the speech -- one thing interesting to think about long-term that the President brought up is port of the idea of universal pre-K as a next step forward in his economic opportunity agenda. I think there is basically no chance that he makes any progress on that as a lame duck president but I do think it's something that we see at the top of a Hillary Clinton agenda and I think that pre-K maybe the next big national fight just like we had over health care and that's something where in Arkansas there are some questions about ABC funding going forward and they will be interested in getting federal help and that is a long-term issue.

Other than that I think the problem that has most Arkansans watching in terms what might get done is immigration reform and the president saying let's get this thing done.

Certainly you're starting to see even moderate Republican Governors in some places around the state back some sort of reform -- I'm want going to use the word "amnesty" but recognize some of the realities that we have with 11 -- 12 million immigrants here who aren't documented so that is starting to gain some steam but my gosh when you think about health care and the wars that we got going, this and that, to accomplish immigration -- true immigration reform in a second term would be a huge step.

I also think if it got close you would have -- I mean let me express some mild skepticism because I think what would happen is sort of the Tea Party portion of the Republican base would get very fired up about this issue and it would be very difficult -- clearly there are establishment Republicans that want this to happen --

Main Street, chamber Republicans.

Exactly and I think John Boehner wants this to happen but there is immense pressure on someone like Tom Cotton and it might kill it in the end but we will see.

And finally because of the taping schedule on mid-morning Friday we don't know Michael by the time we hit air that the Lieutenant Governor will be in office and the resignation as of then.

He might be delivering the letter as we speak and we are expecting the Lieutenant Governor to step down Saturday and the commission released the investigation into Darr and said he was careless on the part of how he ran things. He spent campaign funds as if it was his own money. He relied on two people to make his campaign fundraising financial reports and he acknowledged just signing off of it, not even reading it, and he also didn't keep itemized receipts, so just pretty much didn't do an adequate job of keeping track of it and we're expecting he will step down but as you point out David we haven't actually had a letter turned in the Governor at this point.

And the legislature may likely pass legislation that he doesn't have to be replaced so the office will be empty but it sounds like they will continue to have his staff which is $250,000. It's unclear what they would do since their role is support the job of Lieutenant Governor which doesn't have too much of a job anyway but would be completely vacant so essentially you would you have a Chief of Staff and a Secretary for a vacant office so that is an interesting open question. For Darr personally he still owes more than $20,000 in fines and reimbursements to the state and this ends when he steps down but the scandal will go on for a bit.

No matter wants ethics to be on the ballot and we have the form upper treasurer on the ballot and assuming he resigns that will get Mr. Darr off the stage anyway.

You're right this is a bipartisan issue. And Martha Shoffner and a associate of Mr. Darr and -- [INAUDIBLE] and in his case maybe we had go to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. I hear the division of --

Oh my.

-- hiring policy.

You also have two Democratic legislators in recent months had significant difficulties and of course Mr. Bookout is part of that and Mr. Halum and awkward for everybody and there was discussion in this week of easing the rules on fundraising Michael. We have less than a minute to bring that up.

Yeah, we have two legislators, Bruce Westerman and he wants to run for the 4th District and Anne Clemmer running for the 2nd District. They want to raise funds while the session is going on which is prohibited by state law. Had the House Rules Committee meet Wednesday. They voted to exempt candidates from federal office from this prohibition on fundraising that will have to be approved by the House by a two thirds margin. Some concerns about Representative Darren Williams said this is a violation of the law but he says he will wait and see what the house actually decides.

It's somewhat symbolic but what an ugly symbol to essentially have folks raising money -- you know, and then walking down the hall and casting a vote but we will see -- [INAUDIBLE]

We will leave it there. We will continue to watch. We hope you continue to watch us beginning next Friday night. See you then. "Arkansas Week" is made possible in part by the "Arkansas Times" keeping you informed by covering people, events, and politics in Arkansas. By FM 89 KUAR Little Rock with in depth news reporting, analysis and discussion each weekday.

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