From the quiet hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram. Thousands of retired state employees got some good news this week when they learned that they would not lose prescription drug coverage.
The state agency in charge of benefits is facing a budget shortfall. That can happen to any government agency, or any private business.
However, the officials at this agency made a couple of serious mistakes in judgment.
First of all, they unilaterally decided to make up for their budget shortcoming by eliminating prescription drug coverage for retired state employees.
Secondly, they went ahead with this drastic measure without giving legislators advance notice. We were left out of the loop when it came time to make an important decision that would affect the well being of thousands of Arkansas citizens.
But their biggest mistake was underestimating the determination of our retired state employees. When the word got out that they stood to lose prescription drug coverage, they rolled up their sleeves and got to work. They called their friends and family and filled them in on the situation. They called their elected officials and brought them up to speed.
In short, they conducted a grass roots lobbying campaign that deserves to go down in the political science text books.
So when the Senate and House Committees on Insurance and Commerce met for an interim meeting this week, they got results.
Legislators on the committee were fully informed. The insurance officials tried to fast talk their way out of the problem, but the committee held their feet to the fire with pointed questions.
The end result is that the insurance officials backed off their original decision and decided to keep the prescription drug coverage in place.
There are still plenty of financial problems to be worked out, but at least now we have a year to prepare a solution.
It was a victory for retirees, and it was a victory for the democratic system.
The people made their voices heard, their elected officials listened and represented their interests in committee hearings at the state Capitol, and a satisfactory solution was worked out.
It was a textbook example that our political system can function the way it’s supposed to.
From the Capitol, it is always my greatest honor and most sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.