Arkansas Governor Reaffirms Commitment to Pointless Cruelty

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After a federal judge blocked Arkansas and Kentucky’s horrific Medicaid work requirements, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has reaffirmed his strong commitment to defending his policy of arbitrary cruelty against the poor.

According to ThinkProgress, Hutchinson told a press conference this morning: “I believe there should be consequences if people do not exercise responsibility.”

Responsibility. What does Asa Hutchinson know about the responsibility of low-income people in Arkansas? I’d argue that ‘responsibility’ is what Conisha Gatewood was exhibiting when she tried to comply with the onerous requirements, according to the Washington Post:

Living in Forrest City, just north of here, Gatewood was a clinic patient until she was referred to an obstetrician-gynecologist for nonstop menstrual bleeding caused by ovarian cysts. But when she arrived for a September checkup, she was told she no longer had insurance. “I was like: ‘Yes, I do. They sent me the papers in June.’ ”

She thought she had done everything right, creating a password and an online account. The state had used an automated system to fill in her child-care job and work hours. A letter from the state confirmed that, she thought, telling her she did not need to search for a job because she already worked. But then another letter came, telling her she needed to do a job search after all.

“I was so confused,” Gatewood said. “I already had a job. No one could tell me what I needed to do.”


On what planet is that woman not exercising responsibility? In fact, she’s exhibiting far more responsibility than she should have to, since the state told her she had healthcare. Call me a communist, but I don’t think you should have to be good at double-checking information the state already gave you, or mailing letters, or filling in forms on time, or doing anything in order to not die from lack of healthcare.

Last year, the New York Times reported that state officials were having trouble reaching Medicaid recipients to inform them of the program’s requirements; the open rate on emails sent to the recipients by the state was just 20 to 30 percent. The website that recipients are supposed to use to update their work hours is also a pile of confusing junk.


If the state actually cared about people ‘exercising their responsibility’ and getting into work—which it does not, at all—it would give something resembling a single shit about making it possible for people to fulfill these stupid requirements. It would ensure that the system was simple, that everyone knew the requirements of the program, and that no one lost their healthcare before the state was sure that person wasn’t simply at the wrong end of a missed email. (If the state did all that, to be clear, the program would still be a cruel and evil thing. But even on their terms, this thing makes no fucking sense.)

If a person doesn’t even know that they’re supposed to be working to keep their healthcare, how is it a motivation to make them work? What happens when it’s too late, they’ve already lost their insurance, and now they’re sick and they can’t get care? Does that person then stand a better, not worse, chance of getting a job? Does a person with cancer need the extra push of possibly dying to get them into work—work that they surely won’t be very good at if they’re busy, you know, dying of cancer?


The states that are pursuing these requirements know that it isn’t any kind of test of Medicaid recipients’ moral fiber, and this “responsibility” talk is a tell. What states like Arkansas and officials like Hutchinson are trying to do is punish the poor for being poor, to grind them down and detach them from society as much as they can at the expense of their health and lives. And if that’s your goal, then you don’t care about how poorly-run the programs designed to make life even harder for vulnerable people are, or about how callous you look.