The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Medical Experts Support Gov.Hutchinson on Health Care, as well as Alabama & Tennessee Plans

Posted on January 23, 2015 at 04:10 PM

Contact: White County Medical Center Marketing Director Brooke Pryor at (501) 278-3229 Or Caucus Director Lee Powell (202) 360-6347

The Delta Grassroots Caucus supports Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s thoughtful position to continue funding for the Private Option in 2016 while considering changes and improvements in Arkansas’ health care plan.

Many health care professionals and grassroots leaders from across the eastern half of Arkansas as well as Tennessee and Alabama endorse our region’s constructive efforts to increase health insurance coverage.

Bo Ryall, CEO and President of the Arkansas Hospital Association, said “”Governor Hutchinson has provided us with a plan to continue insuring more than 200,000 Arkansans and a pathway to studying the entire health care system. We support his vision.”

Caucus Director Lee Powell said “We commend Gov. Hutchinson for announcing that he will support continued funding for the Private Option in 2016, his recognition of the benefits in providing insurance to more than 200,000 Arkansans, the savings for hospitals, providing federal budget aid in 2016 for the state government.

We are also open to his concerns about work responsibility, more emphasis on preventive care, cost controls and other legitimate concerns as the new approach moves forward.”

Chris Barber, St. Bernard’s Health Care in Jonesboro’s President and CEO, said “We were pleased with the overall direction that Gov. Hutchinson indicated he will take in terms of extending the private option for a specific period of time while looking for cost-saving reforms that will provide the state more flexibility in the way it provides healthcare coverage to Arkansans.”

Barber said the governor “obviously sees benefits in the fact previously uninsured individuals have been able to acquire healthcare coverage as well as that the program has helped hospitals reduce the amount of uncompensated care delivered. His approach does two important things – it keeps affordable coverage for more than 200,000 newly insured Arkansans and it helps hospitals and providers plan for the near future.”

In emphasizing that we are making progress in the health care field across the region, we would like to quote Senator Greg Reed, Senate Majority Leader in Alabama who is a key supporter of Gov. Bentley’s reforms in that state:

“My work on Medicaid reform in Alabama is focused on better quality care, more patient support and management and cost savings for the State. We are on point to accomplish these goals with our Regional Care Organizations (RCO) plan and I appreciate Governor Bentley’s support at each step on this path. We still have much to do but are on the right track to reform Alabama’s Medicaid program for the better.“

Ray Montgomery, CEO of the White County Medical Center serving a large portion of east central Arkansas, said if the state’s leaders should “continue to support the Private Option Plan. Our hospital has seen a dramatic shift in our mix of patient coverage.”

Montgomery said, “As expected acute admissions are up in part due to some past pent-up demand as well as a very violent flu season. Emergency room visits are up some 13%. Total admissions are up 9%. Due to the Private Option, we have seen our self-pay reduced by over 60%. That has shifted to commercial incurance increasing by 31% and Medicaid increasing by 42%.”

Montgomery said in commending the benefits of the Private Option that “Because people have access, utilization is up but costs are down. Access leads to a healthier Arkansas.”

Rep. Mark McElroy, Delta Caucus Vice Chairman from southeast Arkansas, said “Arkansas is a national leader for our innovative health care plan, and our Delta Caucus colleagues in Alabama and Tennessee are supporting generally similar bipartisan initiatives supported by Gov. Robert Bentley (R-AL) and Gov. Bill Haslam (R-TN).”

Dr. Steven Collier of Augusta, CEO of ArCare, a nonprofit health care organization serving 11 east Arkansas counties, said “Funding the Private Option Healthcare Plan is the right thing to do for Arkansas… one thing is certain, a healthier population with access to health care is long overdue in eastern Arkansas. Funding the Private Option will be a significant step in the right direction.”

Dr. Glen Bryant, an ophthalmologist based in West Memphis, said “I support the private option. this plan is an Arkansas solution.”

Kevin Smith of Smith Insurance Agency in Helena-West Helena, who has extensive experience in signing up many Arkansans to the Private Option, said “the Private Option has been a Godsend for so many of our customers. Unfortunately, we have had to turn down people from across the Mississippi River because their state does not have the same option as Arkansas. It makes a big impact on many lives in the Arkansas Delta.”

West Tennessee grassroots leader Minnie Bommer, who serves on the City Council of Covington, Tennessee, said “Tennessee is in the process of joining Arkansas in increasing health insurance for large numbers of people in Tennessee by Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee Plan. Many grassroots leaders across the state are joining forces to encourage implementation of this very constructive effort for the health of our people.”

Gov. Haslam described his state’s initiative by saying, “The Insure Tennessee plan is a conservative approach that introduces market principles to Medicaid, provides health care coverage to more Tennesseans at no additional cost to taxpayers, and leverages a payment reform initiative that is working to control health care costs and improve the quality of care. I believe this plan is a critical first step to fundamentally changing health care in Tennessee.” A special session of the Tennessee legislature on the Insure Tennessee plan is set for Feb. 2.

Delta grassroots colleagues in the Alabama Black Belt have been in communication with Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama in supporting his efforts to extend health insurance coverage as well, so there is now a regional trend in favor of greater health insurance in five of the eight Greater Delta Region states: Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and Illinois.


The private option program is providing health insurance for more than 200,000 lower income Arkansans who previously did not have any. Arkansas ranks first in the nation in reduction of uninsured people, due to the private option–in the first six months of implementation, the number of uninsured Arkansans receiving inpatient services in hospitals dropped by 46.5%.

In that period, the number of uninsured patients receiving emergency room care declined by 35.5% In that period, the private option reduced uncompensated care costs for uninsured patients for the state’s hospitals by $69 million as compared with the same period in 2013.

Health care professionals have emphasized that without the private option, Arkansas hospitals were facing more than $400 million in uncompensated care costs in 2014, but the private option is estimated to have cut that figure approximately by more than half.

– The private option helps hospitals stay open. Starting in 2010, federal laws started going into force that will result in $2.5 billion in cuts to Medicare reimbursements to Arkansas hospitals over the next 10 years. The private option provides a way to offset a substantial amount of the losses from Medicare cuts.

States that did either expand Medicaid or develop their own state version of the private option saw many hospitals close. In Louisiana, where the state government is an especially adamant foe of anything having to do with the Affordable Care Act, health care costs have risen 18% over the same period when they have declined in Arkansas.

–The federal funding for the private option is a budgetary advantage of $89 million. If this is lost, the only way to make it up is through cuts in education or other essential state services. We would also be faced with the dilemma of how to come up with the lost revenue if the private option is abolished.

Hospitals are major employers in Arkansas, employing over 42,000 people with a payroll of approximately $5 billion. More hospital closures would be devastating for economy, whereas thriving hospitals are a significant economic engine.