The U.S. Senate plans to spend the summer writing health care legislation to repeal, replace, or tweak the Affordable Care Act. The House has passed a bill that congressional analysts say would reduce the deficit and cut 23 million people from their insurance. Arkansas Public Media’s Sarah Whites-Koditschek spoke with Senator John Boozman about his goals for health care.
What are your priorities for health care legislation?
“Well, the Senate bill is going to be very, very different from the House bill,… and you know, this is a major thing, it’s 16, 18 percent of the economy. We really do have a problem in the sense that I think last year I think there were 11 states that had 40 percent or more increases in their health care premiums. In Arkansas, we’ll probably have at least a 20-25 percent increase. So you’ve just got a lot of people that are having trouble with affordability concerning their healthcare."
What would be your preferred solution to that?
“Well, I think eventually we have to get more competition in the system. You have to let people buy insurance across state lines like you can with your car insurance. I do think you’re going to need some flexibility in the sense that, like with car insurance, you can have a policy that covers everything, or you can back off, you know, and say, I’m going to take a little bit more risk. I would like it to be such that my barber, who is a small employer, to be able to team with maybe a thousand other barbers. And then at that point, you have a situation where they can go into the market and get insurance costs like major corporations."
What would you say about the Medicaid expansion cuts to states that would reduce Arkansas’s match rate to 70 percent for any new enrollees?
“And so, again, the Senate bill is going to look very, very different than the House bill. And there’s a lot of concern about reducing Medicaid in those kinds of numbers. There’s a finite amount of money, and so what we’re trying to do is make sure that those who are most in need don’t get crowded out by others. And so we’re working really hard to try to accommodate the various states. Some had expansion, some didn’t have expansion. And then I think, very importantly, provide flexibility. Arkansas being a rural state is very different than a state like Rhode Island, New York… where it’s not as rural.”
Can you give any hint as to what to expect from the Senate?
“Well, what we hope for, what we’re working really hard to do, is come up with a very, very good bill that improves dramatically on the situation we have now. Because the path we’re going down with Obamacare, I think everyone agrees, at this point, that it’s unsustainable."
Editor's note: Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton is in the Senate health care working group, but declined to speak to us.