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EDITORIAL: The Arkansas Obamacare bailout

A failed Medicaid experiment is becoming a national nightmare

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Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe speaks at a meeting of the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association in North Little Rock, Ark., Tuesday, Jan.28, 2014. Beebe says his proposal to boost funding for the state‚Äôs prison system will be threatened if lawmakers halt a compromise Medicaid expansion approved last year. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

Fans of Kathleen Sebelius, the lady who made Obamacare so wildly popular, say her greatest accomplishment was persuading red states to accept the Medicaid expansion. Alas, these states have been lured with false promises of flexibility and free money.

Since it was adopted last year, the Arkansas “private option” has been the model for red states eager to expand Medicaid, which was originally meant to help the down and out, to a new class of able-bodied, working-age, childless adults. The scheme is dressed up like a private-sector solution, to use federal dollars to enable the poor to buy private health insurance. The Medicaid money gives taxpayer-funded Medicaid services to the newly eligible recipients through Obamacare exchange plans.

It’s window dressing on an Obamacare Medicaid expansion to flamboozle Republicans into thinking it’s a free-market deal with enhanced flexibility. It’s definitely not. The Arkansas version of Obamacare expansion comes with the same federal strings attached, dictating who must be covered, what must be covered, how much can be charged, and so on.

The Arkansas Medicaid private option is already over budget by nearly 15 percent. Costs exceed federal caps and, absent a reversal, Arkansas taxpayers will be charged tens of millions more dollars in cost overruns.

Arkansas officials are coming soon to Washington to seek a federal bailout. This shifts the burden to U.S. taxpayers to pay for the empty promise of the fiscally unstable private option expansion.

Taxpayers in all the states will have to pick up the costs of the program in just a few years. That means stretched family budgets, and slashed funding for other priorities, including education, infrastructure and public safety.

With the empty promises of Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion now coming to light, one question looms — why are Republican leaders in other states trying to replicate it? Versions of the private option have been put through the Republican-controlled New Hampshire state Senate and ordered by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad in Iowa. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett pursues a private option Medicaid expansion, and so does Utah Gov. Gary Herbert. The allure of “free” money is too much to resist. It’s a bad deal for taxpayers.

The Arkansas private option does not represent flexibility from the federal government, does not represent a market-based alternative to Medicaid expansion, and does not represent affordable, patient-centered health care reform. The taxpayers who are likely to pay the consequences include everybody. Arkansas is learning there’s still no such thing as a free lunch, and certainly not the hickory-smoked barbecue the state is famous for. Other states should take due diligence.

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