Tolbert: Poll Shows ‘Primary’ Problem For GOP On Private Option

by Jason Tolbert ([email protected]) 169 views 

Talk Business revealed the results of a survey Tuesday that is good news for those hoping to continue funding for the Arkansas private option – the bipartisan compromise approved by the state legislature last year to use Medicaid expansion dollars to fund private insurance plans with some conservative-injected reforms.  The poll shows that 47.5% of Arkansans survey want the private option to continue with roughly 32.5% wanting the program to end.

While good news, the crosstabs reveal the problem for Republicans in the legislature – particularly those up for re-election this year.  When broken out by party, the poll found that Republicans are mostly opposed (-18) to continuing the program.  It further shows that Democrats overwhelmingly support (+53.5) the program, while independents narrowly support it (+4).

Should the legislature vote to continue this “private option” after this current year?

Republicans – 27.3% support – 45.3% oppose – 27.3% undecided
Democrats – 66.5% support – 13.0% oppose – 20.5% undecided
Independents -44.1% support – 40.1% oppose – 15.8% undecided

These results highlight the political dilemma for Republicans.  While the state overall supports the program which would likely be a boost in the general election in November, Republicans do not support it, which makes winning a primary difficult.

This dynamic explains in part why winning the continuation of funding is an uphill battle for the fiscal session next month where once again 75 percent support of both chambers will be necessary.  While voting on the issue is taking place, filing for the 2014 election (including primaries) will be taking place literally right down the marble steps at the state capitol.

In the Senate, the funding passed with only 28 out of 35 – only 1 vote over the minimum required 27 votes for passage.  And two of these votes appear to be already lost.  Senator-elect John Cooper – who opposes funding – won the special election to replace former Sen. Bookout – who voted for it.  And yesterday Sen. Missy Irvin issued a statement to The Arkansas Project saying she will vote against funding.

“Amending the private option legislation and in the end voting for it, was one of the most difficult decisions of my life. And now deciding to vote to discontinue its funding is equally as difficult. But with the policy decisions that have been made, which we don’t have much control over, and the ever-changing tides from the federal government, I am opposed to moving forward and will not vote to fund the appropriation for the private option. While opposed to further public dependence on government programs, I had been convinced that the private option might be a first step in the right direction. I now see it is leading us in the wrong direction,” said Irvin.

I am sure we will be discussing the private option ad nauseum for the next month (or longer) but right now continued funding looks doubtful at best.  This is not to say the plan is dead yet, but Republican supporters such as Sen. Jonathan Dismang will have to do a great job reselling it.