You must keep reminding yourself that, despite logic and practicality and wisdom on that one big issue, the Republican champions of the private option on Medicaid expansion are hard-right conservatives.
They can’t help themselves.
And if you forget, they’ll remind you, as happened in the story I will now tell.
One condition of using these new federal Medicaid dollars-of the Affordable Care Act itself-is that the state must contract with organizations to hire “navigators” at $12 an hour. The job will be to inform people of the new health-insurance opportunities that will become open to them beginning this fall.
About a month ago, state Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford was meeting with two of these Republican architects of the private option-Rep. John Burris of Harrison and Sen. David Sanders of Little Rock.
Bradford wound up showing Burris and Sanders the list of more than two dozen organizations his department was intending to put on contract to hire navigators.
The list looked all right for a while.
But then there was a line saying “Planned Parenthood.”
As they recount the moment to me, Burris and Sanders had pretty much the same reaction, which was as follows:
Hmmm. Look, we don’t like Planned Parenthood a bit. But it’s more than that. This private option remains a delicate issue both among conservatives and in terms of effective implementation.
They continued: We’re simply inviting unnecessary trouble. We need to focus on making the private option work. Using Planned Parenthood will make the debate about abortion, and we’re going to get horribly off track. Jason Rapert and others will come unglued, and it’s in our better interests not to let that happen if we can possibly avoid it.
They had one other point: Why use Planned Parenthood, but no business group or chamber of commerce? The private option is for the working poor, so why not use the chamber of commerce to work with employers to get the word out through the workplace?
Bradford said his department didn’t want to use business groups, but service-oriented ones. He said droves of low-income people whom the state needs to reach walk into Planned Parenthood for screenings and counseling every day.
No matter, said Burris and Sanders. Please take Planned Parenthood off the list, they asked.
They thought that was what Bradford was going to do. Their plan was to proceed quietly as if the issue had never come up.
Their fear-a politically valid one- was that nothing could mess up a good private option like a polarized debate over fetuses.
But then the issue of whether to include Planned Parenthood took on new life on a liberal blog and elsewhere.
You couldn’t possibly exclude Planned Parenthood quietly. The organization is entirely too conspicuous.
Now Bradford is saying he’ll leave Planned Parenthood off the list for now, but work separately to satisfy everyone’s concerns that Planned Parenthood’s services would be invaluable to the outreach and have nothing remotely to do with abortion.
And the position on that of Burris and Sanders? It goes like this:
We asked you to take Planned Parenthood off the list. We thought you were going to do that. We didn’t make any public comment. Indeed, concern about politicization of the private option was our worry in the first place. So now y’all are the ones talking about it. We still want it off the list. We want to do the private option, which will be hard enough. We do not want to fight over abortion in that context.
Bradford probably is going to force Republicans to strike Planned Parenthood.
So we’re probably going to stoke the culture war and waste some energy.
Alas, if I am to be true to my pronouncements over the years, I am afraid that I must grudgingly side-in this particular sideshow-with Burris and Sanders.
Time and again I have lamented that we spend entirely too much time pointlessly on the destructively bitter and polarizing issue of abortion and not enough time on making government work in areas where we can find common ground.
It offends me that Planned Parenthood, a noble organization, would be denied a valuable and effective role in important public outreach simply because of an issue on which people will forever disagree passionately and with inevitable, indeed eternal, futility.
But Planned Parenthood was lucky to survive elimination of public funding altogether in the recent session.
The state was luckier still to get a Republican legislature to pass this private option to extend publicly financed health insurance to the working poor.
So I’m wondering if maybe we shouldn’t press our luck.
John Brummett’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at email@example.com. Read his blog at brummett.arkansasonline.com, or his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.