UPDATE: This post has been updated to reflect developments later in the day.
Activists from ADAPT, a national disability rights organization, attempted to occupy the Little Rock headquarters of the Asa Hutchinson and Mike Ross campaigns today. They were demanding the candidates support the Community First Choice Option (CFCO), a policy change that would allow some 2,800 disabled people in Arkansas to access community-based or home care in lieu of institutionalization in a nursing home, a human development center or a similar facility.
21 protesters were arrested at Hutchinson’s office, according to a statement from Sgt. Cassandra Davis of the Little Rock Police Department. The activists received a much warmer reception from the Ross campaign, which welcomed them inside the office. No arrests were made at that location, said Davis, though four demonstrators were arrested nearby, at Capitol and Izard, for “disorderly conduct for refusal to get out of the street.”
On their Facebook page, ADAPT remarked, “Dems were willing to talk a bit, Republicans hid.”
CFCO has faced opposition in the legislature both from staunch opponents of Obamacare (CFCO is a tangential part of the healthcare overhaul) and legislators concerned that a shift towards community-based care will lead to revenue cuts for the human development centers. I’ll have a post later with more information about the Community First Choice Option.
Yesterday, the protesters briefly took over the offices of the Arkansas Health Care Association, which lobbies on behalf of long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. They also met with Gov. Mike Beebe, who voiced his support for CFCO but noted that his power was limited as there will be a new governor in office in only a few months. (Guess they’ve taken his words to heart today.)
Both campaigns issued statements later in the day. Ross says he’ll “continue advancing the goals outlined in [the CFCO]” and will work with disability rights advocates to increase Medicaid funding for long term care — a hair short of a full endorsement of CFCO itself, perhaps. He also brings up the private option as a dig at Asa’s kinda-sorta support for the P.O. He has a point. Whether or not the CFCO goes into effect, all state funding for the disabled is a part of the larger Medicaid budget, which is built around the savings created by the private option. Yank it away and every Medicaid beneficiary will feel the consequences.
Here’s the full statement from Ross:
“First and foremost, I will protect Medicaid funding in Arkansas and will actively work to protect and reauthorize the state’s bipartisan private option. In addition, I will work with Arkansas ADAPT to empower Arkansans with disabilities so that they have more choices, not less. My administration will do this by working with the legislature to continue advancing the goals outlined in the Community First Choice Option in Arkansas. I will also appoint a workgroup of disability rights advocates and representatives to improve long-term care services in Arkansas. I will work to make Arkansas an even better place to call home for every Arkansan across this great state.”
Hutchinson campaign spokesperson J.R. Davis didn’t give a clear answer on where the candidate stands on the CFCO. He did, however, say that the arrests were not the doing of Hutchinson’s staff:
“We are gathering all the facts about CFCO. That includes reviewing the costs and savings figures and listening to interested parties. We will make a decision based upon what is best for Arkansas. We fully support the ability for our seniors and most vulnerable to be able to make independent decisions relating to their care whether that be in a nursing home, development or independent living center.
We respect the rights of anyone to protest. Specifically regarding the arrests: We did not call the police; they followed the individuals to our office and we would direct any other comments regarding the protests to the LRPD.”
Sounds like a win for the protesters. They forced both gubernatorial candidates to take a position and forced their issue into the public eye.