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Friday, April 07, 2006 

Hutchinson says Arkansas can learn from Mass. health care bill

For once Beebe didn't say 'Me Too'...

LITTLE ROCK --Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson said Thursday that Arkansas should examine new legislation in Massachusetts that expands health-care coverage for that state's uninsured.

Speaking to the West Little Rock chapter of AARP, Hutchinson said he wants Arkansans to have more options for their health care. And the Massachusetts bill that blends the ideas of universal health care with personal responsibility is one example, he said.

"We need to learn from their experience," Hutchinson said. "And we need to look in Arkansas at how we can lower the number of uninsured."

Lawmakers in Massachusetts approved a plan this week that would use a combination of financial incentives and penalties to expand access to health care over the next three years and extend coverage to the state's estimated 500,000 uninsured.

If the bill works as planned, poor people will be offered free or heavily subsidized coverage. Those who can afford insurance but refuse to get it will face increasing tax penalties until they obtain coverage, and those already insured will see a modest drop in their premiums.

But Zac Wright, spokesman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Beebe, the state attorney general, said Massachusetts and Arkansas have distinctly different problems when it comes to health care. Arkansas has more small businesses that can't afford health insurance for their employees and more residents who don't have access to health insurance.

"What's good for Massachusetts may not be good for Arkansas," Wright said Thursday. "Before Beebe would endorse that kind of tax increase he'd have to exhaust all the proposals to expand access for Arkansans."

On other issues, Hutchinson said he would make it tougher to raise the state's sales tax and said he would revoke a 1999 law that has allowed payday lending companies to exploit Arkansans who live paycheck to paycheck.
Hutchinson said he also supports a smoking ban in work places and restaurants because second hand smoke is a health hazard.
"I believe that people ought to be able to go to work without having a health hazard at work," he said.

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