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Monday, April 29, 2013

Arkansas Consumer Advocates Win Medicaid Expansion

Amy Smoucha

Staff Writer

Recently, despite initial opposition, significant pressure from political interest groups, and the daunting task of getting support from the required 75 percent of legislators, the Arkansas legislature voted “yes” on the Medicaid expansion. This victory was made possible by an effective advocacy campaign that mobilized the people of Arkansas to call upon their elected leaders to do the right thing—an ideal strategy in a state where the motto is, “The People Rule.”

Looking purely at the math, the Medicaid expansion will provide Arkansas with more than $800 million in federal funding each year. This funding will assure that 250,000 people who are currently uninsured can go to the doctor, buy medications, and get preventive care. Based on these numbers, you might think that moving forward with the Medicaid expansion was a no-brainer. But the votes in Arkansas involved much more than math.

With the help of organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Municipal League, and the Hospital Association, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families led a winning campaign that reached and mobilized Arkansans who will be helped by the Medicaid expansion. Across the state, dozens of small business owners and parents took the time to contact their representatives and tell their stories. These efforts helped legislators get to know the people behind the numbers. For a sense of how successful this strategy was, just take a look at Rep. Sue Scott’s impassioned explanation of why she changed her vote from “no” to “yes.”

Powerful political interest groups who oppose all provisions of the Affordable Care Act had urged the Arkansas legislature to refuse the Medicaid expansion. Fortunately, the people of Arkansas successfully convinced the legislature that using Medicaid expansion dollars to purchase private health coverage was good for businesses, families, and children. As implementation moves forward, consumer advocates will continue to work with both the state and the federal governments to protect the interests of low-income people who will rely on Medicaid as a lifeline. This victory in Arkansas makes “The People Rule” ring ever more true.