This week, we saw state government at its best when state legislators approved next year’s state budget, which included spending authority for the Division of Medical Services, the agency that oversees Arkansas’s Medicaid and Arkansas Works programs.
The vote was the final piece of business for the General Assembly as lawmakers wrapped up the 2018 fiscal session. And until the final vote, many doubted the appropriations bill would pass.
Not only did both houses pass the bill, but each passed the bill on the first vote. Legislators from both parties rallied to do what is best for their state.
This was an important vote for working Arkansans who need help to cover their health-insurance premiums. It also is important for taxpayers because we put in place reforms that combine government assistance with personal responsibility.
The week began with a visit by Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. She came to the capitol to personally deliver the Trump administration’s authority for Arkansas to require healthy Arkansans who are receiving Medicaid benefits to work, go to school, or to perform volunteer services.
The authority to implement the work requirement came in the form of a waiver that allows Arkansas to deviate from federal Medicaid regulations. Arkansas is the third state to win approval of the work requirement.
The work requirement is not intended as a punishment but as a way for Arkansans to actively engage in their community and to enjoy the dignity that comes with earning a paycheck and providing for a family.
Our hope with Arkansas Works is that those who take advantage of the program ultimately will enjoy better physical, mental and emotional health as they become self-sufficient and work their way up the economic ladder.
The fact is we would not have been able to sustain Medicaid without the type of reform included in the waiver. We needed the flexibility to best address the needs of Arkansas, and that is what this waiver allows.
This week in Arkansas will go down as a turning point. Our clear-eyed legislators put the interests of Arkansas ahead of their political differences. This is a fundamental change to the way we have administered health care in Arkansas. It’s a return to a conservative approach that recognizes the value of self-sufficiency and values the contributions of individuals to the community.