Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

EDITORIAL >> State widens health care

The Arkansas House of Representatives took a bold step Monday toward insuring medical treatment for thousands of children of middle-class working families, and no lawmaker had the heart to denounce it as creeping socialism.

Eighteen of the 100 House members, all Republicans, used the roll call to try to block the expanded insurance for children, all but one of them silently. They oppose such government services for the needy but chose simply to cast their vote against the bill or withhold it.

Back in 1997 when Governor Mike Huckabee and Mike Beebe, then a leading state senator, agreed to set up the ArKids First program, there was grumbling in the governorís own party that it was socialized medicine. Huckabee called it Christian benevolence, a biblical injunction. Now Huckabee is on the other side, leading the chants of socialism against the new presidentís plans to expand health coverage among people who cannot get or afford health insurance. Huckabeeís motto is, itís Christian when I do it but unpatriotic when Democrats do it.

To qualify to have your children insured, a family of four now can earn up to $44,100 a year. The bill passed by the House will raise the ceiling to $55,000. The 56-cents-a-pack cigarette tax enacted last month will pay the stateís share of the coverage and the federal Medicaid dollars will meet the rest, except for a small copay by the families for each medical service.

Rep. Mark Martin of Prairie Grove was the only legislator to speak against the bill. He did not call it socialism but said simply that the state had bigger needs for the money than the children of working families who are not poor under the current statistical standard. He did not say what those higher needs were. Bigger prisons, perhaps.

It would be hard to find a way to spend the money with better societal results. It will improve the health of thousands of youngsters with long-lasting benefits, and it will give relief to working families who have seen their incomes rise only a fraction of the rate of medical-care inflation. Some 79,000 Arkansas children are uninsured, most of them in working families that will become eligible under the bill. Even then, not every child will be eligible. A family cannot stop its family insurance plan and sign their kids up for Medicaid, nor would many want to.

There is a not inconsequential economic consideration. The program will infuse another $45 million to $50 million a year into the Arkansas economy. We are apt to need a lot more.