by David Ramsey
Arkansas Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford anticipates that Planned Parenthood will eventually be approved to provide outreach workers to help people newly eligible for insurance under the Affordable Care Act navigate the system and get enrolled. But Bradford wants time to meet with Planned Parenthood and to assure lawmakers that the group's participation in the guide program has nothing to do with abortion.
"We just needed to talk and sit down with them and make sure there was a clear scope of work," Bradford said in a phone interview yesterday. "I don’t foresee any problem with getting that defined with them. I think we're going to get something worked out with them and we'll go through the process. It will be at a later time."
As we noted yesterday, the Arkansas Insurance Department approved contracts for 27 other entities to hire guides — who will be federally funded and will be trained and licensed by AID, the Department of Higher Education, and the Association of Two-Year Colleges — but delayed the contract for Planned Parenthood. Republican lawmakers had raised objections to the Planned Parenthood contract to Bradford.
The legislature's joint Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER) subcommittee meets this afternoon and will review the appropriation for the guides, which was approved last fiscal year but could theoretically be blocked by PEER.
Bradford acknowledged that the "emotion involved" explains the extra scrutiny for Planned Parenthood and the additional effort to "clearly define the scope of work." He said that he expects it to come up at the PEER meeting today, and he hopes to use the opportunity to explain that guides will be narrowly focused on getting eligible people enrolled onto the exchange (including the "private option" population). "I’m worried that it will not be understood appropriately," Bradford said. "Once it’s made clear I can’t imagine anybody having a problem with it."
If the legislature approves the appropriation for the 27 entities today, Bradford hopes to come back at a later date for a separate approval for the Planned Parenthood contract. "I want to be sure it's perfected," he said. "It's not agreed on with Planned Parenthood yet, but they're going to come in here and we're going to work it out. I do not foresee any problem with that. That's a step we've got to make. I don't have any hesitation that [the legislature] will approve it."
The issue is, do they have a population that needs to be served? In my viewpoint they do. We need to have a clearer definition so we don’t have any trouble from conservatives that they think it has anything whatsoever in any way to do with the abortion issue.
We're going to be sure it’s going to be explained and anybody is going to agree and know that this is a process to help people get on the Internet and get on the federal exchange. It doesn’t have anything to do with anything else and I’m going to make it very clear. I would think the legislature will approve it.
[Planned Parenthood] has a population, a lot of young people that are going to need to understand how to get this coverage. I didn’t want to get bogged down on a political, emotional issue when it does not apply to that. It’s too important. We need to reach that population, it’s too important a process.