New poll finds Asa Hutchinson with sizeable lead over Jan Morgan, plus support for continuing Medicaid expansion among Republican primary voters

MORGAN: Trails Hutchinson in primary battle.

  • MORGAN: Trails Hutchinson in primary battle.

A new poll from Talk Business finds that Governor Hutchinson has a substantial lead over Jan Morgan, the hog-riding, Muslim-banning, gun-toting, airbrushing, RINO-busting gadfly from Hot Springs.

In the survey of likely Republican party primary voters in the state, 57.5 percent are backing Hutchinson, with 30.5 percent favoring Morgan. Another 12 percent are undecided (the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points). That’s a commanding lead, if a significant irritant for a popular incumbent governor in a primary. Enough of an irritant for Hutchinson to try to toss some red meat to the right-wing base? We’ll see.

The most interesting finding in the poll, however, is a substantial shift in the views of GOP voters on Medicaid expansion. A substantial plurality of likely voters in the Republican primary now support the program, continuing a trend toward increasing support for the policy among GOP voters that has been shown in previous Talk Business polls. That’s a doozy of a finding, a major turnaround from four years ago when the program was first enacted (and led to wave of primary challenges, with mixed results, on that very issue).

The Talk Business poll found that 41.5 percent of likely Republican primary voters in the state support “Arkansas Works,” the Medicaid expansion program that uses Medicaid dollars made available by the Affordable Care Act to purchase private health insurance for low-income Arkansans (this is the same program once known as the “private option” until Hutchinson re-branded it, concluding that the old name had become “politically toxic”). That’s compared to 25.5 percent who oppose it and 33 percent who don’t know.

Here’s the precise wording of the Talk Business poll question (worth noting that responses tend to shift depending on whether the word “Obamacare” is in the question):

As you may know, Arkansas instituted a program using federal Medicaid dollars to provide private insurance to low-income Arkansans through health care exchanges. The program is now called “Arkansas Works.” Do you support or oppose the Arkansas Works program? 

The healthy plurality now supporting the Medicaid expansion is a sharp shift from 2014, when a similar question was asked by a Talk Business poll about the program, then known as the “private option” under the Beebe administration. Back then, a 45-percent plurality of Republican voters opposed the program. That has turned upside down in the four years since. It probably helps that a Republican governor is now in office and supporting the program (an interesting counterfactual is whether the legislature would have re-upped Medicaid expansion under a hypothetical Gov. Mike Ross; arguably Hutchinson helped save Medicaid expansion in Arkansas by giving it the stamp of approval of a Republican governor).

Joe Maynard, the Fayetteville businessman who has poured money into the Conduit for Action network — a dizzying array of PACs and other entities in opposition to Medicaid expansion which allow Maynard to skirt campaign finance limits — had some early success in 2014 funding primary challenges, helping to stop then Rep. John Burris from gaining a senate seat and helping then Rep. Terry Rice to topple Sen. Bruce Holland (while a number of other GOP private option backers survived). However, lately Maynard-backed candidates have been trounced in GOP primaries again and again. Conduit has promised to keep fighting, but these poll results suggest that the anti-Obamacare attack may finally have grown stale in GOP primaries.

Morgan herself has made attacks on Hutchinson’s continuation of the Medicaid expansion a key plank in her own crusade against the “RINO” establishment. This latest poll suggests she has a decent base of support but most primary voters still aren’t buying what she’s selling.

Here’s some analysis offered to Talk Business by Hendrix politics professor and Arkansas Times contributor Jay Barth, who helped craft and analyze the poll:

Governor Hutchinson is dominant with the type of voters who have traditionally participated in GOP primaries. Jan Morgan is decidedly stronger with those who have been drawn to the party over the last couple of years by President Donald J. Trump. There is little doubt that the traditional Republican voters will show up to participate in the primary next month. The key question is whether the new Trump voters show up to vote without the President on the ballot. If they do, Morgan could close the gap with the Governor significantly. …

One clear division between the gubernatorial candidates is on Arkansas’s distinctive form of Medicaid expansion—now called Arkansas Works. While Republican voters historically were dubious about Medicaid expansion (a 45% plurality of Republican voters opposed the “private option” in January of 2014, when Governor Beebe was still governor), GOP voters have shifted towards plurality support for the program rebranded and redesigned in the Hutchinson era.

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Legal aid lawyer sounds warning on Medicaid cut for working…

NEW HAVEN – Sheldon Toubman says he is lending voice to the voiceless.

Toubman, an attorney with New Haven Legal Assistance Association and a longtime advocate for low-income families, said there is no movement in the legislature to assist some 13,300 individuals due to lose funding for Medicaid coverage.

He said it is unlikely they will be able to afford the premiums, deductibles and cost-sharing required of insurance through Access Health, the state’s exchange under the Affordable Care Act.

“They are all working folks, they are all low-income. They are all struggling to try to support their families and they are all going to lose their health insurance on Jan. 1 unless the legislature, before the end of the session, which is May 9, does something to undo that,” Toubman said.

This group represents the working parents and relative caregivers of children enrolled in HUSKY A, which is Connecticut’s Medicaid program for children.

“There has been almost no recognition from legislative leadership about what this is (the Huskey A cuts) and the harm it will bring,” Toubman said.

Lawmakers in 2015 changed the income eligibility limits for this group of residents from 201 percent of the poverty level to 155 percent of poverty. This was further dropped in October 2017 to individuals at 138 percent.

While children remain eligible for coverage, Touban and Sara Parker McKernan of Connecticut Voices for Children said, some parents assume that once they no longer qualify for assistance, neither do their children.

Voices, in a study of the 11,209 caregivers who lost their coverage in 2015 due to the first change in income eligibility, found two years later that 8,822 were still without health insurance.

Toubman and McKernan fear a large percentage of the additional 13,300 caregivers will drop insurance in January when faced with competing priorities such as paying rent, buying food, covering utility costs or covering child care expenses.

Paying premiums and cost-share out of pocket can consume from 17 percent to 20 percent of household income for two parents in a family of four at 150 percent of the poverty level, McKernan said.

“That is not a small amount of money and that is not inconsequential to a family living at or near poverty,” McKernan said.

She said studies on Medicaid have found that people with this coverage are more able to work and work regularly because they can address chronic health care issues.

“This has real consequences for real people,” she said. McKernan said there is also the emotional and physical cost of unexpected medical debt from an accident or serious illness.

“You have the constant worry that your family will have these catastrophic medical costs. There are a dual set of risks,” McKernan said.

Under the current rules, a family of three making $32,209 would qualify for the Medicaid insurance for parents. As of Jan. 1, when the changes go into effect, a family of three could only make $28,676 to be covered by Medicaid.

Originally, when the legislation was passed in October, the Husky A changes were targeted to become effective in January 2018. Under federal rules however, recipients are entitled to one-year transitional coverage if any of their income is from a job.

This pushed off the effective date until January 2019.

“To give you an indication that this is truly the working poor, only 3 percent of the Husky A recipients didn’t have income from earnings,” Toubman said.

At the same time that lawmakers in October imposed $11.3 million in cuts on the Husky A parents, it also cut $56 million in coverage for 113,000 senior citizens and the disabled who took advantage of the Medicare Savings Program.

While this fund supports some Medicare costs, it is underwritten with Medicaid money.

The seniors and disabled, who are not only a larger demographic but better organized than the Husky A caregivers, came by the busload to the Capitol to complain. Consequently, this issue is on the radar screen for lawmakers to reconsider.

Without the supplemental help from the Medicare Savings Program, they will now be responsible for the $134 per month premium cost of Medicare Part B, as well as cost sharing expenses for visits and procedures.

But unlike the Husky parents, who lose all their insurance, the seniors and disabled individuals will continue to have health insurance through Medicare.

Lawmakers are trying to put a budget together while accounting for a projected deficit this year of $363.5 million, as well as billions more through 2022.

It has been a convoluted ride so far with lawmakers restoring the Medicare Savings Program cuts in early January, only to have them vetoed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who said the lawmakers’ numbers did not add up.

On Friday, Democrats and Republicans unveiled their budget proposals for fiscal 2018 and 2019.

Neither party offered to restore any funds for these “working poor parents,” Toubman said. They did restore some money for the seniors and disabled, but not all would be covered.

The Democratic plan dropped coverage for some 38,000 residents out of the 113,000 seniors and disabled, while the Republican plan cut off funds for 68,000, Toubman said.

McKernan said one of the reasons that the Husky A parents have not been lobbying as successfully is that they are working and have less time, and the effective date of implementation makes it feel less imminent. The Medicare Savings Program cuts go into effect in July.

“As anyone who has experienced any sort of medical insurance knows, you get a lot of letters that you may not have read carefully, especially if it is not happening now,” McKernan said. “So I think that is part of why this issue hasn’t risen to the level of noise that it really needs to.”

“This is an issue of the voiceless,” Toubman said.

Still, the consequences for those who will lose the Medicare Savings Program are serious.

Voices has said those without discretionary income to cover premiums and cost-sharing requirements will go without essential treatment and medications, forcing some into emergency rooms and others into nursing homes.

As for the Husky A recipients, the cuts are bad for the state, McKernan said.

“This is a short-term fiscal decision and in the long run term you are going to have increased uncompensated care costs. You are going to have more uninsured adults,” she said.

Toubman said he is of the opinion that health care is a right for everyone and feels the government has an obligation to provide basic health care.

He said there is also a disconnect between what state lawmakers are saying about these cuts and what they said when Medicaid was threatened on the federal level by the Trump administration.

He said Malloy was very strong opposing the federal cuts in the Affordable Care Act and in June of 2017, he issued a press release saying this was an outrage because tens of thousands of people would lose their health care.

“Our question is why does that not matter if the state does the exact same thing?” Toubman asked.

He said at the federal level it came from an ideology, while here it is a budgetary issue, but it is the same thing on the ground.

On a map provided by Voices, every community has Husky A individuals who would be hurt by the cuts.

Bridgeport would be affected the most with 988 residents losing this assistance, followed by Hartford at 801, Waterbury at 765 and New Haven at 634.

Other communities with higher representation include: Stamford with more than 450, New Britain at 506, Danbury at 392, Meriden at 326 and Torrington at 221.

In Greater New Haven, West Haven has 249 recipients, East Haven has 132 recipients, Hamden has 187, Milford has 148 and Shelton has 126.

“Every legislator has working poor parents in their districts that will be impacted,” Toubman said.; 203-641-2577

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Plan Would Create Medicaid Work Requirement

Able-bodied Medicaid recipients in Michigan may soon have to choose between finding a job or losing their health insurance. The ultimatum comes in the form of a bill approved by Michigan Senators this past week. After their amendments were shot down, Democrats took the floor Thursday to blast the bill for what they said was punishing the poor. Democrat Curtis Hertel spoke on the Senate floor.

“I cannot support legislation that ties a basic human right, access to healthcare, to employment,” Hertel said.

The Senate-passed legislation would strip the public benefit from able-bodied adults unable to find an average of 29 hours of work per week by October 1 of 2019. The Michigan House will now consider the plan.

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Reader’s View: Wrong to require those on Medicaid to work

Unfortunately, not all side effects go away when treatments end.

As a hospital chaplain, I see cancer patients and others as they cope with the lasting symptoms associated with the aggressive treatments that may prolong or save their lives.

Now, Minnesota lawmakers are suggesting that once treatment is over, patients are suddenly all better and should have no problem heading back to work. I wish that was the case, but research shows us it simply is not true. That’s why imposing work requirements on individuals on Medicaid and denying them access to coverage if they cannot comply is wrong.

Taking coverage away from cancer survivors and other patients who are unable to go back to their normal work routine because of debilitating effects of their treatment is irresponsible and short-sighted.

As a cancer survivor myself, I called to urge my Sen. Tom Bakk and Rep. Mary Murphy to join their colleagues in voting against the bills before the Legislature, to protect survivors, and to not take away the health coverage their lives depend on.

Patti P. Maguire


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House should ease Medicaid work rules

The Detroit News
Published 10:36 p.m. ET April 21, 2018

Michigan needs more workers to fill the jobs now vacant in its expanding economy. And it needs fewer residents collecting Medicaid benefits, if it is to keep that program solvent for those truly in need. Both goals can be accomplished with a reasonable version of the Medicaid work requirement bill moving through the Legislature.

But it must be the right version, and the bill passed by the Senate last week is not the one.

Gov. Rick Snyder will most likely veto the Senate bill should it also be adopted by the House and sent to him for signature.

The governor’s spokesmen said, “this version of the bill is neither a reasonable nor responsible change to the state’s social safety net. We should not jeopardize the success of Healthy Michigan, which has helped hundreds of thousands of Michiganders who no longer have to choose between taking care of their health or paying their bills.”

The governor tried to work with the Senate to make the bill’s work provisions less stringent and to provide more exemptions for Michigan residents who may struggle to meet its demand that able-bodied Medicaid recipients either work or train for work to keep their eligibility.

Those affected by the new mandate — roughly 300,000 of the more than 2 million residents receiving Medicaid — would have to work 29 hours a week or attend job training or other schooling. It would be up to the recipients to verify compliance, and if they fail to do so twice they’d lose their benefits for one year.

Passed on a mostly party-line vote, the bill drew criticism from Democrats who contend it is too harsh and that the jobs many of the Medicaid recipients would qualify for pay low wages or are inaccessible to them due to a lack of child care or transportation.

Parents of children under the age of 6 would be exempt, as would pregnant women, caretakers for the disabled and those recently released from prison or collecting unemployment benefits. Those who are on the job or taking training courses would not lose their Medicaid benefits under this bill. The hope is that they would ultimately move into jobs that paid good wages or included employer-provided health insurance.

Democrats attempted to also exclude military veterans and raise the child-rearing exemption to age 9. They also tried to reduce the work requirement to 20 hours.

That puts them closer in line with Snyder, who is unlikely to sign the bill passed by the Republican-controlled Senate.

While not opposed to the work requirement, the governor believes the 29-hour rule is too onerous. He’d also like to see more carve-outs.

The bill is supported by most business groups, which are desperate to encourage more people into the workforce. Such a measure might help do that, if it is crafted correctly.

It is essential to reduce the Medicaid rolls. Unless something changes, the Healthy Michigan program, drafted in response to Obamacare and now serving 670,000 residents, is at risk of going bust in two years.

Snyder was working with Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, and was said to be surprised that the bill was moved through the Senate before a deal was reached.

He has another chance to shape the legislation as it is debated in the House. Rather than risk a veto, leadership should work with the governor to come up with a bill that encourages residents into the workforce without punishing them for being poor.

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Therapist gets prison for Medicaid fraud

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Therapist gets prison for Medicaid fraud

TORRINGTON – A Litchfield County therapist was sentenced Friday by U.S. District Judge Victor A. Bolden in Bridgeport to 48 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release for defrauding the state’s Medicaid program. Ronnette Brown, of Bristol,…

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State may add Medicaid work mandate

TRAVERSE CITY — Requiring able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work could have an impact on northern Michiganders who rely on the government program for health care coverage.

But providers are still trying to determine how many of their patients could be affected. Michigan state senators on Thursday passed a bill that would add the requirements for any Medicaid recipient physically able to work to put in 29 hours a week and certify monthly to show they’re meeting the requirement.

Medicaid recipients could also qualify by attending job training, working at an unpaid internship or tribal employment program, or participating in addiction treatment, according to a bill summary.

There are also several exemptions: The requirements are for anyone age 18-64, unless they’re pregnant, caring for someone younger than 6, getting long-term disability benefits, going to school full time, living in a county with 8 percent unemployment or higher, collecting unemployment benefits and more.

A Senate fiscal analysis estimates the exemptions could mean that up to half of Michigan’s 1 million traditional and expanded Medicaid — called the Healthy Michigan Plan — recipients don’t have to meet the requirements, depending on how they’re implemented.

Traverse City resident Besty Zeeyrt is covered by Medicaid, and said she had heard about possible work requirements. She breathed a sigh of relief upon learning she would probably be exempt.

“Oh thank God, because there’s just no way I’d be able to do that, not with my mental health and my seizure disorder,” she said.

Zeeyrt worries how the requirements could impact others with “invisible disabilities” like hers that keep them from working. She has bipolar disorder and generalized seizure disorder, and gets Supplemental Security Income. She’s seen how others struggle to meet the requirements for Medicaid or disability benefits, and a work requirement for Medicaid seems like “punishing somebody who’s already down on the ground.”

Medicaid covers around one in four northern Michiganders, Munson Healthcare Director of Government Relations Gabe Schneider said. That concentration can be even higher among certain patient groups in specific locales — 70 percent of women and children in the Grayling area, for example.

Munson Healthcare and the Michigan Hospital Association are against the work requirements proposal as it stands, Schneider said. It could cause patients to lose their coverage, impacting their treatment outcomes.

“We know that better health outcomes come from having insurance coverage because people get treated for illnesses before they become acute,” he said.

What’s more, the bill doesn’t seem to account for seasonal employees or volunteers, Schneider said. It’s also unclear how much the requirements would cost to implement and manage — Schneider added he’s looking forward to state representatives on the House’s proposal.

Traverse Health Clinic, a community health center in Traverse City, accepts Medicaid patients among others who may otherwise not have access to care, clinic CEO Arlene Brennan said. Nine percent of the clinic’s patients overall, including those on Medicaid, were unemployed in 2015 and 8 percent were disabled.

Community health centers treated 208,050 Medicaid recipients statewide that year, Brennan said. Four percent of them were able-bodied and unemployed.

“So it’s not a huge number that’s out there,” she said.

Brennan said she believes that most people who are unable to work will find an exemption. She’s waiting to hear more from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which manages the state Medicaid program, to get a better idea of the work requirements’ impact. But she agreed it’s not likely the current proposal would strip lots of Medicaid recipients of their coverage.

Bob Wheaton, an MDHHS spokesman, said in an email department employees are still reviewing the legislation’s potential effects.

Traverse Health Clinic employees see firsthand how good health helps keep people in work. She credited the Healthy Michigan Program, which allowed people with incomes higher than the typical Medicaid cutoff to sign up, with helping put more people back on the job.

“I think that the biggest thing that we see is the vast majority of people who are able to, want to work, and we totally understand how important health care is to being able to go to work,” she said.

State Rep. Larry Inman, R-Williamsburg, said he’s sympathetic to the bill’s overall premise. Those getting state aid should be working and contributing to society, if they can. But he’ll give the bill a close read soon. He wants to find out if the proposal would harm Medicaid recipients who are legitimately unable to work.

“I need to find out what requirements they are talking about and if they are reasonable, and if they are not reasonable, I’m not going to vote for it,” he said.

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Michigan Senate Votes To Add Work Requirements To State’s Medicaid Program

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Bullock touts expanded Medicaid at Montana forum

BILLINGS – Gov. Steve Bullock led a roundtable Thursday in Billings on a new study touting the benefits of expanded Medicaid in Montana.

The message from RiverStone Health: Montana’s expanded Medicaid program is returning huge dividends to the state, not only with jobs and personal income growth but a significant investment in Montanan’s health and well-being.

“We’ve been able to demonstrate – here’s the difference it can make in individual lives, here’s the difference it can make in keeping rural providers sustained and alive, here’s the difference it can make with our 17 primary care community health centers, and we’ve been able to do it in a unique, Montana way,” Gov. Bullock said at the gathering of lawmakers and health-care providers.

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Gov. Bullock added that it’s a made-in-Montana solution that other states are now looking to replicate.

John Felton, president of RiverStone Health, said the program is good business for providers and good medicine for Montanans, “what we need is time to continue to see the full benefit of it,” he said.

Although the future of expanded Medicaid will likely come before the 2019 Legislature, already there is an effort to put the issue before voters this fall. Initiative 185, now approved for signature gathering, proposes an increase in state tobacco taxes to fund Medicaid expansion into the future.

Gov. Bullock said he wholeheartedly supports the initiative, noting that Montana tobacco taxes have not been increased since 2004.

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Capitol Week In Review: Budget Talks, Medicaid Benefits


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