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Medicaid Popular In Arkansas, Survey Says, But 'Obamacare,' Republican Replacement Get Thumbs Down

A poll released by the American Medical Association this week finds that both the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, in place since 2014, and the Republican American Health Care Act under consideration in the Senate, have image problems among Arkansas voters. Medicaid, meanwhile, is pretty popular.

The survey conducted by Alexandria, Virginia-based Public Opinion Strategies finds that 44 percent of registered Arkansas voters sampled oppose the program commonly known as Obamacare.  The Republicans’ American Health Care Act, which is not law but would replace Obamacare, is opposed by 40-percent of respondents in its current form.

The survey also finds major differences among Republicans and Democrats. Among Arkansas Republicans, 29-percent believe the Republican-controlled Senate should pass the House bill with major changes, while 27-percent favor passage with minor changes.  For Democrats, 18-percent believe the Senate should pass the bill after making major changes, while 12-percent would be okay with minor changes. 

On Tuesday, Senate leaders decided not to call for a vote and to back off of a previous goal of passing the bill and effectively dismantling the Affordable Care Act prior to the Congressional recess for the Fourth of July.  

Medicaid, the federal program for low-income people, is fairly popular in the state — 55 percent of respondents holding a favorable view while 22 percent are neutral.  Just 14 percent have an unfavorable view of Medicaid in Arkansas.

Dr. Joe Thompson of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement was not surprised that Medicaid fared better in the survey. Arkansans have a much more personal connection to Medicaid, he said.  

“Either themselves or a family member or someone that they know is helped by the Medicaid expansion.  And when you have people in need that are getting helped, it’s harder to have people actually argue against that support,” he said. 

He noted that about seven out of ten people who answered the survey reported such a connection to Medicaid.

“We are talking about the most needy and vulnerable among us,” said Dr. Andrew Gurman, immediate past president of the American Medical Association. 

In addition to serving as a lifeline for children, the disabled, the elderly and pregnant women, he said Medicaid will end up affecting everyone.

“When people lose coverage, then their care is picked up in emergency rooms, in situations where they have to go to the hospital, and they are sicker because they haven’t had any basic care. So ultimately this affects all of us,” Gurman said.

Medicaid, which expanded in Arkansas after passage of the Affordable Care Act, is due to begin shrinking, following a decision from the Arkansas legislature in May. 

About 60,000 residents who earn more than 100-percent of the poverty line will move off of Medicaid and into the health insurance market. Legislators deemed expanded Medicaid unaffordable due to the federal government’s planned reductions in its contributions from 95-percent to 90-percent by 2020.

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you! You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media’s reporting at Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.

Ann Kenda joined Arkansas Public Media in January 2017 from Sudbury, Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Syracuse University and previously worked in public radio, commercial radio and newspaper in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. She focuses on health, justice, education and energy as part of the Arkansas Public Media team. Her stories can be found on the airwaves, and social media.
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