Sen. Jim Hendren, the state Senate majority leader and nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, has issued a press release supporting the governor’s decision to order the termination of Planned Parenthood‘s Medicaid provider contract. Hutchinson’s move appears to clearly violated federal regulations; Louisiana and Alabama have already been told as much by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
I’m no attorney, but this appears to be a fight that the state is doomed to lose. One possibility is that the feds will force their hand. Remember that federal funds make up the overwhelming majority of Medicaid money in Arkansas. Eventually, if a state refuses to comply with federal Medicaid regs, HHS could threaten to pull all Medicaid funds, essentially bankrupting the state’s health care system. At that point, Arkansas would have to cave. The other possibility is that Planned Parenthood will sue, get an injunction, and stop these shenanigans in court. This would give Leslie Rutledge something headline-grabbing to do, but the state would almost certainly lose.
However, Hutchinson’s stunt will accomplish one thing: it gives politicians an excellent opportunity to grandstand. In that sense — other than some legal fees and some distracting extra work for DHS at a time when they are, uh, a little busy — this is a no-lose proposition for Hutchinson, Hendren, and co. Doesn’t accomplish anything, but makes for good copy to sell to the base. (And hey, at least it’s a different batch of Medicaid headlines for Team Asa.)
And if there’s grandstanding to do, we know who’s running to the front of the line:
p.s. I’ve asked Republican leadership whether the GOP House caucus is planning something similar and will update if I hear back. And will Democrats, or what’s left of them, speak out?
UPDATE: And here’s the House GOP Caucus statement from House Majority Leader Kenneth Bragg: