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Griffin says he ‘can’t support’ private option

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin of Little Rock makes a point during an interview Tuesday at The Commercial office. (Special to The Commercial/William Harvey)Buy Photo
U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin of Little Rock makes a point during an interview Tuesday at The Commercial office. (Special to The Commercial/William Harvey)
U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin of Little Rock makes a point during an interview Tuesday at The Commercial office. (Special to The Commercial/William Harvey)Buy Photo
U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin of Little Rock makes a point during an interview Tuesday at The Commercial office. (Special to The Commercial/William Harvey)

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin of Little Rock said Tuesday that he can’t support the private option that the Arkansas General Assembly is debating in this year’s fiscal session because he has “concerns that have not been satisfactorily addressed.”

Griffin, a Republican who recently announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor, was in Pine Bluff on Tuesday to tour the Pine Bluff Arsenal. He at down with a Commercial reporter to talk about his campaign and a number of other subjects, including Obamacare and the state’ private option.

“From a federal perspective, Medicaid is going bankrupt and we’re just expanding it, whether it is in the form of a private option or traditional Medicaid in another state,” Griffin said. “There is no dedicated funding stream. It is locked in with the rest of Medicaid and I will tell you the argument that if we don’t take the money someone else will is not true. This is not money that goes to another state if we don’t take it. This is money that will not be spent by the federal government. That’s number one. What is the funding stream?

“It would be irresponsible of me, as a member of Congress, to say, particularly as a member of [the House Ways and Means Committee] to say ‘I don’t care how you pay for it,’ ” Griffin said, “and I have not heard a satisfactory answer to that.”

Griffin said he has concerns about the future of Medicaid.

“Traditional Medicaid is a critical program for a lot of people,” he said. “It is going bankrupt and this does not fix it. In fact, Medicaid programs across the country, whether they’re expanded or not, are not seeing the kind of reform I think they deserve. In Arkansas, there have been some changes to traditional Medicaid to the payment system but not the changes that will save Medicaid. Those changes have to be comprehensive and bold.”

He also suggested that “if the private option is going to save money, why didn’t we push (the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) to let us turn the traditional Medicaid program into the private option first to see if it is actually going to do what it says?”

Griffin said the private option does include innovation advocated by some Republicans.

“You got that innovation only to expanding what the president wanted,” he said. “If you went to the president and said ‘we will expand any program you want if you just let us do some innovating,’ I guarantee you would get a lot of expansions of a lot of programs and again that goes back to the funding stream.”

The private option was adopted during the 2013 legislative session as an alternative to expanding the state’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. The private allows the state to use federal funds to purchase private health plans for low-income residents. The federal government will pay the full cost of expansion from 2014 to 2016, with the state’s share of the expense increasing in steps to 10 percent by 2020.

“I want our leaders to be frank to the people of Arkansas about what’s going to happen when the federal money stops,” Griffin said. “Some people will say ‘raise taxes.’ I disagree with that. Some people will say ‘the savings will pay for it.’ Government says that lot and it has a tendency not to materialize. Some will say ‘if we don’t get the money it will just end.’ I think we’ve seen with what just went on at the statehouse not many people are going to consider that option because a lot of people and a lot of hospitals are counting on it, and I totally understand, to make up for cuts that came from Obamacare.”

Griffin said he has talked to a number of legislators about the issue and and is open to listen to any facts that will change his mind but at the present, “I can’t support it.”

Regarding his decision to seek the office of lieutenant governor rather than run for another term in Congress, Griffin said one of the most important factors is that he will be able to live at home and watch his two children, ages 3 and 6, grow up.

In addition, while the state constitution provides that the lieutenant governor’s duties are essentially limited to presiding over the state Senate and filling in for the governor when necessary, Griffin said “the office is what you make it.”

If elected, he said one of his priorities would be to review the Arkansas tax code, with an eye to making the state more attractive to industry?

“Do these (tax laws) help us achieve our goals?” he said of the state’s current tax code. “Do these help us grow jobs? Do these help us compete? How can we make them better? How can we make our entire tax system, not just our income tax, our entire tax system make more sense? Make it less complex? How can we make it fairer?

“I think our approach has been, at least in recent memory, don’t make any fundamental changes to the tax code, just try to use a lot of sweeteners here,” Griffin said, referring to economic incentives that have been used to entice businesses to Arkansas. “I think most people would agree with that, that’s generally been the approach.

“I’m all for using whatever we can use to get companies to come here, but that should be the icing,” he said. “They should be attracted first and foremost because our fundamental structure is one that lends itself to growing jobs.

“I haven’t heard in the last x-number of years any bold plans for completely reforming our tax code,” Griffin said. ‘What I’ve heard is, ‘we’re going to give some incentives here, we’re going to give you some tax breaks here. We may build you this here.’ Look, if that’s what it takes to get ‘em here I’m all for that but it will take a lot less of that if you have an underlying structure that has a big welcome sign on it: Jobs.

“I want to use what I have learned in the experiences I’ve had, in the relationships that I’ve developed to help grow jobs and make sure we’re doing what we ought to be doing to help grow jobs here,” Griffin said.

Griffin said he believes “there are some straightforward things we can do to restore trust” to the lieutenant governor’s office, including spending less and possibly reducing staff.

“I think we can do more with less,” he said.

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