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Archive for the ‘Arkansas Politics’ Category

Slow down, feds tell the mad Medicaid purgers

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The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told the state last Friday – a week ago today — that it had to stop terminating Medicaid recipients after giving them only 10 days’ notice to object to the state’s admittedly malfunctioning income verification system.

The Hutchinson administration, always keenly interested in the political appearance, insisted on formal written notification – something it could show right-wing legislators to demonstrate that the big bad Obama government was making the state extend this heinous due process to poor people.

Wheels moved slowly, as federal bureaucratic wheels are wont.

CMS apparently wanted to frame a nice-sounding rather than scolding letter because it appreciates that Gov. Asa Hutchinson, rare among Republican governors, intends to try to salvage the private option form of Medicaid expansion.

The final email notification came at the end of the week, and the Hutchinson administration put out a news release this morning saying that, golly, gee whiz, the state has decided to start giving 30 days after new “guidance” from the feds.

That’s euphemistic political speech for: The federal government has told Arkansas to stop being in such an all-fired hurry to achieve its apparent adrenaline rush from taking health insurance from poor people.

There are four persisting issues:

One – The feds apparently are not going to enforce this 30-day policy retroactively and the state has no intention on its own to do that. So the 58,000 or so already thrown off, many no doubt incorrectly, are still out of luck.

Two – Lawsuits are being prepared arguing that the income verification process was unfair and that the notice system was unfair. One will seek class-action status. An argument that due process of law was not followed would seem by my unlicensed legal eye to be made stronger by the disparate treatment given the first batch of notices as compared to the second batch after the federal government said essentially that the first batch was done improperly.

Three – None of this will matter much in the end, some administration officials think, because – 10 days or 30 – a ton of these people are over the income level and will be struck. If so, so be it.

Four – The potential political complication is that Hutchinson is now on record wanting to save the private option but only with  “flexibility” for the state granted by a federal waiver, and now CMS has given the state a little dose of inflexibility.

But it’s two different things – an arbitrary state initiative that is a catastrophe and gets called out by the feds, and a waiver, meaning a written contract, by which the federal government would formally agree in advance to conservatizing principles the state would apply to its private option.

You know, at some point you have to quit coddling the extreme right. You have to take the pacifiers out of the mouths of the troglodytes. You have to take your chances with the smart and correct policy.

Note: I’ll flesh this out and perhaps get really worked for a column Tuesday. Sunday’s is on the right wing’s obsession with Hillary Clinton.

 

 

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Written by jbrummett

August 28th, 2015 at 12:52 pm

An official Medicaid mess conversation

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The Medicaid madness, the mess, continues to leave me nearly flabbergasted.

I would be fully flabbergasted except that I get, to an extent, the pandering right-wing politics that the Hutchinson administration deems necessary.

I’ve had conversations lately with official defenders of this mass purge that is jerking health insurance from 50,000 people.

Let me relate how these conversations typically go:

Them: It is so unfair of me to make an issue of the shortness of a 10-day response period on income verifications before losing health insurance. That’s always been the policy, through numerous Democratic gubernatorial administrations. And it’s the same period used for ending food stamps.

Me: But this isn’t a standard annual income verification process, applied case by case as recipients’ annual dates occur. It is a first-time, one-time, statute-required mass inventory – a “redetermination” — of everybody. Ten days plus mass application of a flawed detection system – that is an entirely different and more irresponsible, and meaner, set of circumstances.

Me, continuing, fired up now: Anyway, the 10-day federal minimum is for Medicaid income verification. These people on the private option are losing private health insurance on the exchange. There are entirely different federal policies requiring longer than 10-day notification periods, but 30 days, for not renewing policies on the exchange.

Them: It’s 30 days. About. Almost. We give 10 days. Then we give five days for the mail. Then five days for us to process. And then they don’t really lost their insurance until the month ends, because they’re paid until then.

Me: Well, 10 plus five plus five is not 30. And they are purged at 20 days, effective at the end of the current month, when, some lawyer is going to argue, they should have been given another 30 days for private policies purchased from the exchange.

Me, getting more worked up: Anyway, regardless of the length of notice, why in the name of the sweet Lord would you jerk health insurance from people with zero income – as your director admits is happening because your software detection thingamajig is, like, screwy?

Them: We have admitted mistakes have been made. I wish you could talk to some of these people who are working to put people back on their insurance because of mistakes like that. Then you wouldn’t be writing the most unfair thing you’ve ever written, which is that we set out to kick ineligible people off health insurance.

Me: But you did. And those people who are working so hard to restore health insurance to persons purged scandalously – good for them. But they are only having to do it because y’all messed up bigtime.

Them: Don’t we deserve credit for putting out the fire we started?

Me: No.

 

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Written by jbrummett

August 14th, 2015 at 8:44 am

The purge, as I am told and understand

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Here is what I get this morning on the horrid private option purge, checking in with Human Services in light of reporting by David Ramsey of the Arkansas Times that you can get purged for having your income move 10 percent either way, even down, assuming you don’t meet the 10-day response deadline to object formally and argue differently:

The best way they tell it to me, and the best way I understand and can relate it, is with a made-up example.

If DHS has your income at, say, 100 percent of the federal poverty level, and you’re on the private option that extends to 138 percent of the poverty level, and then if a computerized crosscheck with data at Workforce Services has you at 140 percent of the poverty level, thus ineligible for the private option, then what we have there is a more than 10 percent difference that overlaps the threshold, making you eligible by one piece of data and ineligible by another, and so you get a letter.

If you don’t respond to argue that the 140 percent assertion is wrong, or give notice that you intend to so argue, then, after TWENTY days, meaning the basic 10 plus five allowed for mail delivery both ways and five allowed for the processing cluster at DHS, then, yes, by the end of the month, you’re off.

You could still appeal after that and, under federal law, get 90 days. I think.

Now, the governor’s office and DHS argue that this is nothing new — that annual income verification is required by federal law, that a new state law insisted upon by private-option favoring Republicans required the current “redetermination,” and that 10 days is the longstanding state standard.

True.

What’s new is this mass one-time legislatively required redetermination. It’s one thing to do a deliberate and credible check each year when renewal time arrives for recipients. It’s another to send out tens of thousands of letters at once and purge 35,000 because you didn’t hear back.

I’m all for income verification. I don’t mind one-time “redetermination” if it’s done in an orderly way.

I do mind a hard deadline and jerking of health insurance because two state agencies have different sets of data and a guy didn’t respond because he didn’t get the letter or didn’t understand. Poor people move around. Poor people — like other people — are not universally fluent in bureaucratese.

All other factors aside, we are enduring this mean madness to try to accommodate the right-wing that just doesn’t like poor people or helping them.

Everyone has as much right as anyone else to get elected to the Legislature and get really good and cheap health insurance that way.

UPDATE: Oh, and about getting a verification letter if your income differential is more than 10 percent downward: Human Services spokesman Amy Webb says the computer software will indeed cause a “ping” for any 10 percent difference, even downward, but that you only get a letter if one of your reported incomes exceeds 138 percent of poverty. And if Human Services had someone at 140 percent of poverty, they would have been ineligible already. She says Human Services has not explained that well.

UPDATE TWO: David Ramsey, who knows this better than I and gets into the weeds more thoroughly, responds/amplifies on Twitter. I’ll just refer you to his Twitter feed. https://twitter.com/ArkDavey

 

 

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Written by jbrummett

August 10th, 2015 at 11:29 am

Asa’s veneer of niceness and centrism

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Asa Hutchinson keeps governing from the right and talking from the center.

That makes him the inverse of Bill Clinton, who once was credited by a labor lobbyist with the splendid dexterity to hug you while urinating on your leg.

There is a vintage Asa emerging.

He says we must save the private option and kill the private option.

He insists that the Legislature recall that bill on religious freedom to discriminate and resend the same bill to him in the same substance but different words. For that he has gay and lesbian advocates cheering him on the Capitol steps, spiking the ball after no gain on the play.

Vintage Asa was on display for the nation Sunday on “Meet the Press.” Hutchinson said on that program that he’s against same-sex marriage but accepting of same-sex marriage and that we must ever couch our attitudes in tolerance.

He said maybe the U.S. Supreme Court would let Arkansas continue to ban same-sex marriage and only require the state to recognize same-sex marriages legally entered into in other states.

That is to say he’s not against recognizing gay marriage but that he is against recognizing gay marriage specifically in the gay-discriminating state where he hopes again to appear on the ballot.

But he wants modern business to know Arkansas is a welcoming place for any gay married couples they might bring here.

And on these revelations about the Clintons and the uranium deal for Russia, Asa said Republicans need to be restrained in talking about it — the deal that stinks to high heaven, that is.

He said the revelation does not appear to amount to a clear quid pro quo but certainly encompasses a ton of money and clearly advances the appearance that the Clintons make a lot of mistakes whenever they wander into the intersection of personal business and politics.

He basically says to be measured when talking about the ethical wasteland of Clintonville.

Asa is for cutting taxes only on the middle class and he is for charging no income tax at all on the portion of a capital gain exceeding $10 million.

He is not for building a big new state prison but he is in favor of building new prison space.

He is against taking away local control. So he will let a bill taking away local control become law.

He is for carrying out the death penalty and he is for putting lethally injected inmates on immediate life support and deferring the pulling of the plug to a task force.

I made up that last one.

Maybe.

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Written by jbrummett

April 27th, 2015 at 4:01 pm

Posted in Arkansas Politics

The two faces of Tim — UPDATE

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Politico reports that Mike Huckabee is lining up campaign staff for his personal rebranding refreshment campaign that will encompass a perfunctory bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

It reports that the lieutenant governor of Arkansas, a veteran Karl Rove-trained political operative named Tim Griffin, will be a paid campaign operative for the Huckster.

Griffin comes close to confirming that this morning to the Democrat-Gazette.

Now, please understand, as I have written previously, that there is ample precedent for the Arkansas lieutenant governor, having nothing to do in a government capacity and getting relatively modest pay, to take outside work – which, in fact, is expressly permitted for that office by law.

And there has been no actual conflict because there was never any real public duty or accountability for the lieutenant governor with which to pose a conflict.

However ….

In Griffin’s case, he recently got appointed by his apparently adoring benefactor, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, to head yet another of Asa’s ad nauseum task forces – this one to gather facts and make recommendations on what if anything the state should do to get out of, or revise somehow, the federal Common Care standards for public schools.

In fact, the task force meets today.

So that’s a real job.

Meantime, this Huckabee character for whom Griffin apparently will toil in a paid campaign operative role started out years ago embracing Common Core, but has since peeled back that support because he needs to champion the right-wing evangelical religious fringe in order to refresh his brand.

And the right-wing evangelical religious fringe has decided amid raging insanity that Common Core is a godless socialist takeover of local public schools by the godless socialist administration of the godless socialist Kenyan who tragically holds the office of American president.

Common Core is a set of uniform goals that schools would endeavor to meet in terms of what kids know at a certain grade level so that a youngster could be moved, say, from Massachusetts to Arkansas and enroll in school in a more or less seamless experience.

Common Core does not presume to tell state and local educators how to achieve those goals. Nor does it permit the federal government to swoop in and start doing any local educating – godless or otherwise.

So is there a conflict there for Griffin in objectively executing a public policy assignment for Hutchinson to assess Common Core while he also works in a political advocacy role for an active presidential candidate whose interest is in distancing himself from, and indeed demonizing, Common Core?

Why, sure, there is. In one role he’s to be objective. In the other he’s to be advocating. Those roles are …. like …. way different. One is to serve the government of all of us. The other is to serve the personal rebranding refreshment interests of an active political candidate.

Unless, that is, Griffin has two faces and two sides his mouth out of which to talk.

UPDATE: I am now reliably advised that Griffin will not be paid by the Huckabee campaign for whatever service it is that he will provide.  I am further advised that his role, whatever it will be, will not be remunerated indirectly through the consulting firm with which he has associated. If that’s the case, then the above blog post falls somewhere between “well, that’s less egregious for sure” and “never mind.”

 

 

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Written by jbrummett

April 23rd, 2015 at 8:29 am

Posted in Arkansas Politics

How’s Mike Beebe doing?

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So I chatted by phone this morning with Mike Beebe. It was the first time we’d talked since he left the building.

Any governmental or legislative commentary or analysis was off-the-record, not that he had much of that to offer. I just wondered how he was doing. I miss the rascal.

But on the important stuff he said:

1. Ginger sustained a little physical setback from which she is recovering well, but which had him for a time doing two things he had not really ever much done. Laundry was one and vacuuming the other.

2. He is hitting the golf ball better than ever but can’t putt. Putting is for the younger man who hasn’t missed enough putts in his lifetime to know how scary putting is.

3. Reports that he is mostly coaching the Arkansas State football team are false, in part because they have a good coach and fine recruiter who has landed a class in the top 50 or 60 in the country and comparable to Kentucky’s or Vanderbilt’s.

By the way, he is not doing either lawyering or lobbying. He has affiliated with the Roberts Law Firm on its international business side to advise clients on economic development prospects. I don’t really know what that means. He goes to the office, oh, maybe a half-day a week.

On this day, AETN was coming up to Searcy to interview him for a documentary about him.

So no golf today. No putts left short or pulled wide.

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by jbrummett

April 7th, 2015 at 2:33 pm

Quoting Vickery on the gay matter

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Credit where due: Conservative quipster/lobbyist Bill Vickery said during my monthly sit-in with him on his radio show Sunday morning that, when it came to religious rights and gay rights in Arkansas from the big to-do last week, “nothing has changed and everything has changed.”

That’s exactly it.

I deem that to be Vickery’s best line since he said Liza Minnelli would play Martha Shoffner in the movie. Or when he said voting for Mike Ross as Mike Beebe’s third term was like flirting with the pretty girl all night, then going home at closing time with her ugly sister.

What Vickery meant first was that law in Arkansas is unchanged. Asa Hutchinson’s big show of resistance actually left the status quo. Religion is freely practiced in our Bible Belt state, where no one had even remotely impeded it. And gays remain without expressed anti-discrimination protections in our law.

But, politically speaking, he meant that The Washington Post article was correct that the gay rights movement has won.

Indiana had to retreat. The business and entertainment industries demanded it.

Arkansas had to appear to retreat. Walmart and Acxiom and our fully warranted fear of another besmirched reputation demanded it.

And then Georgia, with such a bill under consideration, looked at Indiana, and then Arkansas, and said to hell with that.

With remarkable rapidity, the gay rights movement has so remade the prevailing American culture that American corporations, under new public pressure in both a micro and macro way from the immediate and intimate public connection of social media, must now get out in front of a cultural issue like that with a purely economic decision to attend to the emerging customer base.

Corporations make the real decisions and government falls in line. That’s an old thing and a bad thing on tax and regulatory policy. But apparently it’s a good thing and a progressive thing for the culture.

What it means on public school policy is a big fight, which is what we may be about to have in the state-usurped Little Rock district.

That’s another blog post.

 

 

 

 

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Written by jbrummett

April 6th, 2015 at 4:28 pm

Too scared to rule, state Supreme Court rules — CORRECTED

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The Arkansas Supreme Court announced Thursday a little something I wish to paraphrase generously, indeed embellish, but only for worthy purposes of candor and clarity.

The court is dealing in chaff and somebody needs to get in there and pick out the wheat.

So here goes:

The court said that it did not want to rule on the same-sex marriage appeal properly before it, and would not, most likely.

The court said we couldn’t make it rule even if we tried.

It said its judgeship positons are matters of popular election and that the people of Arkansas don’t much like same-sex marriage, which the judges might be forced by, you know, justice and stuff, to permit.

So the eminent justices said they simply will concoct lame, indeed nonsensical, excuses not to opine on Circuit Judge Chris Piazza’s stayed ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. They said they will stall until the U.S. Supreme Court handles the issue perhaps by June and makes moot the state case and gives everybody in Arkansas someone to blame, probably Barack Obama, who has nothing whatsoever to do with the court case, but so what?

Justice Paul Danielson, the real jurist in the group, dissented. Presumably he favors going ahead and deciding a case that’s been fully argued and pending for months while the other judges have been hiding under their desks with their robes pulled up over their heads.

Justice Rhonda Wood, who is newly elected to the court and didn’t hear the case last year, announced separately that she couldn’t find any record of those proceedings anywhere, mainly because she hadn’t looked, and was not going to participate in the case at all, even in any comical stalling tactics such as these otherwise undertaken by her colleagues, because . . . well, she doesn’t want to. And we couldn’t make her if we tried.

To be clear: Wood is disqualifying herself not only from the original appeal that she didn’t hear, but from this new lame-brained notion to start a whole new case right now on her watch on the question whether to start over on that thing last year she didn’t hear.

You see.

You don’t see? All right, let me break it down further: She don’t want to.

CORRECTION: Turns out I didn’t see either, which would be funny if not about me. Judge Wood tweets to explain what her letter to Chief Justice Jim Hannah plainly says: She disqualified only from voting on whether to create this new case to invite arguments about whether to rehear the original case. That’s because it affected her. She is not disqualifying from the original case or any rehearing of it. She says she is ready to hear the case itself, if the opportunity arises. She says she would have dissented from this latest action to create a new case on the question of whether to rehear, except – again — she disqualified on that, because it was about her. Check Justice Wood’s twitter feed to see if that’s still wrong. If this is unclear, apportion blame among me for the description and the court for the silliness. )

Let’s run through this narrative: Piazza ruled nearly a year ago that same-sex marriage was to be permitted in Arkansas. After a few days of gay weddings, the ruling was stayed for appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Sen. Jason Rapert, as God’s own legislator, got the Legislative Council to adopt an unconstitutional resolution presuming to tell the court that the legislative branch would darned sure appreciate it if the judicial branch would overturn this abominable ruling by this judge whom Rapert calls “Pee-at-zah.”

The appeal was fully briefed and orally argued in early November, and the justices, by usual procedure, would have gone into conference and decided it and issued a ruling by the end of the term in December.

But they didn’t. So then two newly elected judges joined the court in January. So then the Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asked the court to consider the question of whether to start over and rehear the case with the newly constituted court.

So the court said that was a swell question, right up its alley, and asked for briefs, which have now been submitted.

What specifically happened Thursday was that the court said it was now opening a whole new case on this issue of whether to have new oral arguments on this matter, and that, since it was creating a whole new case, the parties would need to supply fresh briefs for that case on the now-recycled question of whether to conduct start-over oral arguments.

It is unclear whether lawyers will be allowed simply to photocopy their existing arguments on that question.

Most likely, the Supreme Court will open a third case on that question.

There may now be a fourth case on the matter of the columnist’s contempt of court.

I would remind you that former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel once said this court seems result-oriented, meaning as opposed to blind justice-oriented. And I would remind that retired Justice Don Corbin wrote a dissenting opinion in a case that offered as a little aside that McDaniel might be right.

 

 

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Written by jbrummett

April 3rd, 2015 at 7:55 am

On the religion-gay issue

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I just released my column for tomorrow on HB1228, the religious conscience bill that outrages the gay and lesbian movement, after inserting a few hedging phrases in concession to a bit of morning buzz.

I am told that Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has committed to signing the bill, has this morning become interested in Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s idea to “clarify” his state’s similar new law, presumably by another measure to assert that the new law does not conflict with anyone’s civil rights.

The talk this morning was whether to put such an amendment on the Arkansas bill, still awaiting a final concurring vote in the House of Representatives, and on whether it would make any difference — either politically or to protesting gays and lesbians or on substance.

Arkansas has no civil rights protections for gays and lesbians and, in fact, just enacted a crazy and hateful law denying local governments the authority to enact any on their own.

My column in the morning will deal with timing, context and perspective and conclude that Arkansas is the worst in regard to timing, context and perspective.

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Written by jbrummett

March 30th, 2015 at 11:52 am

Sounds like him

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So on the front page today the Democrat-Gazette reveals new morsels from the apparently dictated journals of former U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers in the 1980s and 1990s — journals in the sense that the now-ailing senator apparently dictated candid personal thoughts that his secretary transcribed on pages the Bumpers family now says should not have been included in a document donation to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and that the family has retrieved at least temporarily for review.

These were the musings that included the Mother Jones headline discovery that Bumpers had harsh words in 1983 for Bill and Hillary Clinton.

It turns out the Democrat-Gazette copied some pages before the family retrieved them. On the front page today, thus, Bumpers is quoted from decades ago talking about what a “charlatan” and “troglodyte” Ronald Reagan was, and ridiculing the substandard oratorical stylings of Bill Alexander and John Paul Hammerschmidt, former Arkansas congressmen, and calling Gary Hart a scary oddball, and saying he had found three Miss Americas of his acquaintance to be not all that, including one whose legs were, in the former senator’s estimation, larger that his own.

That last one is the big scoop. I knew all the other things already. But that a beauty pageant winner had . . . well, let’s move on.

The new information also has Bumpers praising his own oratory.

There’s something very sad about uncovering and making much of old private thoughts of a man now in cognitive decline and unable to speak to the discovery’s authenticity or context.

But since the thoughts are out there, let me say, as a great admirer of the senator and good friend of his family, that the musings sound like him in his heyday..

His tendency to ridicule Reagan’s intelligence and engagement and to lampoon colleagues . . . well, let me put it this way: It is conceivable that we would uncover someday the private thoughts of one of those colleagues and that colleague would say that Dale Bumpers was the most egotistical person he had ever encountered.

Bill Clinton had character flaws. Hilary Clinton has a bunker mentality. Ronald Reagan wasn’t all there. Gary Hart was eerie. Some other guys were boring speakers. And Dale Bumpers was always very keen on himself but not so much on others.

None of us is perfect.

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Written by jbrummett

March 22nd, 2015 at 6:42 am

Posted in Arkansas Politics

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