Little Rock Every spring soon or later I sit down for an annual cup of coffee with Ernie Dumas, former editorial writer for the Arkansas Gazette and currently still an op-ed columnist for the weekly Arkansas Times, but mainly an old friend from “back in the day” where we mark the ways our paths have crossed for decades and continue to do so. There is an order to our conversations. First, we usually comment on how “bad” it has become. Then we talk about how we continue in our various ways to pound our heads against the wall, no matter what we just said in the first instance.
I brought up a squib I had seen in the local paper that morning about the new work requirements that the conservative Republican governor of Arkansas had mandated for Medicaid recipients in the state. Dumas mentioned that he had just written a piece about just how Catch-22 bizarre these new rules were in the last issue of the Arkansas Times. He jumped up and found one in the coffeehouse still, and I promised I would read it later.
Lordie! If anything, Dumas might have soft pedaled how draconian these new, first-in-the-nation Medicaid work requirements really are. It’s one thing to talk about Scrooging up the requirements and pretending that there are a bunch of scofflaws trying to dodge paying labor in order to be provided by the government. This is the ideological myth of the “able-bodied” that tries to fog over the fact that the overwhelming majority of Medicaid recipients are children, the infirm or incapacitated, or older people caught in poverty before they qualify for Social Security. The Arkansas plan is not about being tough and doing a search-and-save mission to find the able-bodied and require them to provide 80 hours per month of some kind of labor or volunteer work in order to maintain qualifications for Medicaid, although ostensibly that’s the actual requirement. No, the Arkansas plan is clearly only about one thing only: forcing people off of Medicaid.
Here’s the real story in Dumas’ own words:
“Governor Hutchinson will institute big cuts in medical insurance for poor adults this spring my making Medicaid enrollees get on their laptops every two months and prove they are working at least 80 hours a month….If they can’t do that they lose their health care for the year. Wait: They probably don’t have computers or email accounts, would have a clue about how to use them or to build the evidence needed to keep their insurance, and may not live someplace with easy broadband coverage. The state’s answer: This will give them the energy to join the digital society.”
According to Public Integrity’s study Arkansas ranked 49th in the country for the lowest level of internet subscriptions and the worst digital divide for the poor in the country. Even arch conservative Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton and the current head of the FCC have pointed out the deficiencies in internet access particularly in rural Arkansas.
Cynically, Arkansas politicians will go to war on the poor by claiming they are helping them join the modern technological world. This is a mandate to work coupled with an unfunded mandate to buy a computer and pay for wireless.
This one is easy. It’s not about rewarding work. It’s about punishing the poor for their poverty.
Thanks to KABF.