I couldn’t help but notice something odd about today’s headline in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette regarding the reauthorization of the private option, the expansion of Medicaid-funded insurance that’s been fully at the center of politics in Arkansas for the past two years. See if you can spot it:
2 Medicaid-related bills get House OK
Yep — no “private” and no “option” in the headline announcing the biggest story out of this legislative session. To be fair, other news outlets (such as the Houston Chronicle) also left out the words “private option,” preferring instead to describe it as “Medicaid expansion” as per the AP wire story. And that’s fine: The private option always was Medicaid expansion, despite its Republican legislative backers’ claims to the contrary.
But to describe the legislation as “2 Medicaid-related bills” is like describing the invasion of Iraq with a headline such as “Military-related event proceeds in Middle East.” Maybe the paper would call the Supreme Court’s decision on DOMA a “Matrimony-related ruling.”
This matters because the Republican Party is trying very, very hard right now to sell the passage of SB 96 and SB 101 as “ending the private option” in favor of some future round of Medicaid reform to be determined by a task force some two years from now. Gov. Asa Hutchinson wisely calculated that such a rebranding campaign would provide enough political cover to allow hardcore conservatives in the General Assembly to vote for the legislation.
But make no mistake: Anyone being honest about the appropriation just passed by the House will tell you it extends the private option for another year. That’s simply what it does. To frame the story as the D-G does in its headline today can be nothing but deliberate obfuscation of what happened yesterday, which is that a Republican governor and an overwhelmingly Republican legislature — newly populated by conservative freshmen who campaigned primarily on fighting Obamacare and the private option — approved the private option, which was enabled by Obamacare, by a wide margin.
This is not, by the way, any reflection on the D-G journalists who actually wrote the story itself, which is a solid, informative piece. (And which, of course, uses the phrase “private option” in the first sentence — because that’s how everyone reading the article refers to the program.) Decisions about headlines are up to the paper’s copy desk, not the reporters. An omission this conspicuous has to be a conscious editorial choice. All aboard the rebranding train.