There is plenty of political profit for Republicans in slamming Planned Parenthood, so expect more of the above. If there’s an opportunity to grandstand on this issue, we know who will be first in line… Sen. Jason Rapert took to Twitter yesterday to say, “I have advised Ins. Comm. Bradford that if he pushes for funding of Planned Parenthood as navigators — all momentum will stop” and “I am sick and tired of taxpayer dollars being funneled to the number one abortion provider in our nation. It is wrong.” (Of course, it doesn’t stop with Planned Parenthood — Rep. Kim Hammer told the D-G that he had a problem with Living and Affected Corp., an HIV-prevention group, “if they are in the business of promoting a free and open lifestyle, with no consequences for actions.” Here’s the group’s website if you’d like to attempt to parse Hammer’s objections.)
The contract for Planned Parenthood to provide guides to help people sign up for health insurance is currently in limbo as state officials seek to appease Rapert and company. The guides have nothing to do with abortion and in fact would not be providing any of the organization’s various health services, any more than guides hired by the Central Arkansas Library (a vendor that has been awarded a contract) will be shelving books. Max noted as much in his volley from across the pond yesterday on this kerfuffle, and also pointed out that the state will be on shaky legal footing if it denies a qualified organization a contract because the legislature doesn’t like their point of view.
Two quick points I’d like to add: The Arkansas Insurance Department reached out to seven thousand organizations in an attempt to find vendors, including churches, health clinics, not-for-profits, libraries, rotary clubs, and (though John Brummett didn’t get the memo on this) businesses and chambers of commerce. They held information and recruitment sessions and advertised across the state. In response, 30 vendors applied; three have since dropped out, including the state Chamber. It’s not easy to find groups willing to take this on — there’s no profit in it and it could potentially soak up resources away from a group’s regular activities. As Exchange Director Cynthia Crone told me, the motivation really has to come down to groups “committed to the mission of getting people enrolled.” If Republicans get their way on Planned Parenthood, we’d be losing one of those relatively rare entities.
The second point is that the population that Planned Parenthood serves are precisely the people that the guides program aims to target. While the guides have an important role in helping people navigate the sign-up process, their most important role is really just letting people know they’re eligible. Tens of thousands of people have contact with Planned Parenthood both at clinics and at outreach programs in the community — half of them are at or below the federal poverty level, and another 14 percent are between 100 and 200 percent of FPL. Planned Parenthood spends around $300,000 a year in uncompensated care here in Arkansas. They will continue to serve these folks whether they become a guides vendor or not — the question is whether the state wants to do outreach to the many low-income uninsured people that use Planned Parenthood for care.
Will implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Arkansas, or the “private option” in particular, fall apart if Planned Parenthood doesn’t contract to provide seven guides? No. But given the population they serve, that would be a worse policy outcome at the margins. Of course, this isn’t really about policy.
I had a similar chat with Sen. David Sanders that, apparently, Brummett did. Sanders said I couldn’t be surprised by the way this has played out; indeed I’m not. He said it was a “needless injection of controversy” — where he and I disagree is on who’s doing the injecting.