OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Spite of the season

Gov. Sarah Sanders has decried President Joe Biden's "[playing] politics at Christmas."

That would seem to indicate her acknowledgement that playing politics as she does every day--as is her very essence--is not in keeping with themes of peace and joy.

It seems to me, then, that she ought to look inward toward her year-round practice.

Anyway, Biden is guilty only if it's anti-seasonal to express concern about whether poor kids in Arkansas have health insurance. I am not at all certain that worrying about poor children's well-being is any kind of "bah, humbug" thing.

The point is whether it's better to err on the side of providing health insurance for children than on the side of restricting health insurance for children. And that's a question that is the same whether raised in late December or the dog days of summer.

What happened was that Sanders got a letter Monday that she didn't much appreciate from federal Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.

The letter expressed concern that, from March through September, when states were in the federally required process of taking people off Medicaid who had gone on it by emergency expansion during covid, the number of children nationwide covered by Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) had declined by 2.2 million. The letter reported that 60 percent of the purged children came from Arkansas and eight other mostly conservative, spiteful states--Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Dakota and Texas.

The letter asked these governors to have their states take another look. It warned of the possibility of some of these reductions in children's coverage resulting from mere red tape. It suggested an inordinate threat to poor minority kids. It suggested a few ways to check more closely and offered federal assistance and partnership in scouring the rolls and getting targeted messages to families with children at risk.

Biden is Becerra's boss, and responsible for him. But nothing in the record so far has Biden ordering up this expression of concern for children. And it's unclear what the political advantage would be to Biden's re-election by poking the resentment-based huffiness always on the surface of the Trumpian governor in a Trumpian state.

So, Sanders went on X, meaning the former Twitter, and accused Biden of defying Christmas with politics. She said Arkansas had done its Medicaid-expansion drawdown just fine, thank you. She asserted that--back in August--the federal government had identified states seeming to be performing excessively in reductions and did not put Arkansas on that list.

But Arkansas was on this children-specific list. It is not an argument against being on this list that Arkansas wasn't on that list.

For that matter, it's odd Arkansas was left out in August considering that it was insisting on doing its Medicaid purge in six months while the federal government was allowing a year with extensions. And its percentage of purged recipients during that period was the fifth-highest in the country. It ended up the single-highest over six months.

Anyway, all the federal government is doing in this case is asking the nine states of uncommonly high numbers of child purges to take another look, and, beyond that, offering federal government help in doing the hard work.

The federal government is offering to send more money to Arkansas on a three-to-one match if it can find eligible children who don't have any health coverage.

And Sarah replies that that's not any kind of thing to be doing, especially at Christmastime.

In the real spirit of the season, and humanity beyond the week of Dec. 18, our governor might have put aside the snarl and sent a letter to the federal Health and Human Services secretary saying:

"I got your letter, Mr. Secretary, and I must tell you that I'm confident we in Arkansas did a good job on our unwinding of the covid expansion population on Medicaid, both for adult and child recipients. But I appreciate your concern for our poor children and your offer of suggestions and even of a partnership in taking another look. Lest even one poor child in Arkansas slips through a crack, I hereby happily inform you that we will accept your suggestions and your offer of joining forces. After all, your letter simply asks us to make even surer that we are serving our needy in a program for which the federal government supplies most of the funding."

She might close her reply letter as follows: "Allow me to take this opportunity to wish you a very merry Christmas. Please pass along as well my season's greetings to the president. Tell him that I hope only the best for the country in the year or so he has left in office."

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected]. Read his @johnbrummett feed on X, formerly Twitter.

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