Wednesday, March 20, 2013

AFP Arkansas still mulling "private option"

Posted By on Wed, Mar 20, 2013 at 7:16 PM

The Arkansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity sent out a tweet today expressing opposition to expansion even under the so-called "private option" that many Republican lawmakers have shown interest in. However, AFP Director Teresa Oelke quickly issued a clarification, tweeting that AFP was still "waiting for details."

Yesterday, AFP's invited guest Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute gave a talk to the Conservative Caucus Luncheon at the Capitol, at which he registered strong opposition to the "private option." Cannon is fiercely against Medicaid expansion but believes that the "private option" would be even worse. He called it "crony capitalism" and suggested that it amounted to a trick to get Republicans to capitulate to Obamacare. Cannon and a few local conservatives prefer calling it the "Beebe plan" — which is extremely funny if you know how irritated key Republicans get if anyone gives Beebe credit for the framework pushed by them. But hey, I'm fine with it. BeebeCare?

Anyways, today AFP tweeted out Cannon quotes from the talk and linked to an article concurring with Cannon's take. They've been cagey thus far, so I asked whether this meant they opposed the "private option." Their initial response voiced opposition to Medicaid expansion. I tweeted, "OK — would you consider the so-called 'private option' expansion? Do you oppose that?" Tweeted response from AFP: " it isn't "private" if the gov't is involved. So yes." A little less than an hour later, Oelke stepped in to clarify that AFP is against "private option" style expansion if that's the only thing that happens, but if it comes with complimentary "significant reforms," AFP hasn't come to a position yet. A bit convoluted, but fair enough. Still cagey after all.

Thus far, conservatives both locally and nationally have been relatively quiet on the new "private option" plan, and in fact quite a few have spoken positively about it, at least as a general shift away from Medicaid expansion. AFP's heavily hedged skepticism is probably the closest a big conservative voice in Arkansas has come to publicly registering opposition.

Given that AFP spent somewhere around $1 or 2 million on legislative races in 2012, I think it's fair to say that when they talk, lawmakers listen. It's not just about money — AFP has served as a source of ideas and support for movement conservatives.

I guess I should note here that while I support expansion, Cannon-style opposition seems perfectly coherent and consistent from an anti-ACA perspective. It remains to be seen whether those arguments have any traction and whethere there will be significant pushback to the "private option" from the right. Certainly if AFP ever becomes a hard no, that's politically a big deal.

Details are being hammered out, but we're very close to a decision point. Though no Republican lawmaker has officially endorsed it, the Four Privateers, along with House Speaker Davy Carter and Senate president pro tempore Michael Lamoureux, have been very positive about the new framework. Will Republican lawmakers on the fence listen to them, or to the inevitable Tea Party critics of the deal? That may determine whether expansion happens or not.

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