The Health Reform Legislative Task Force is in the middle of a mess | Arkansas Blog

The Health Reform Legislative Task Force is in the middle of a mess

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As we've reported this morning, Sen. Jim Hendren is expected to make a recommendation to the Legislative Council Executive Subcommittee this afternoon not to offer a contract to the Stephen Group, the firm that the Health Reform Legislative Task Force chose as its consultant by a vote of 9-7 last week. 

Hendren, along with the other GOP chairs of the task force, voted for the other finalist, Public Consulting Group (PCG). Critics of the Stephen proposal have argued that its proposed scope of work is inadequate for the task at hand (Stephen's proposal only runs through the fall of 2015, whereas PCG's runs through the end of 2016). There's also a perception among some GOPs that PCG offered the best hope for a way forward in terms of common ground with private option skeptics like Hendren. 

Even if PCG is the very best consulting that $2.2. million can buy and even if the Stephen Group is not up to snuff, this has to count as a political fiasco for the task force leadership. There are lots of complicated ins and outs when it comes to this consulting contract, but the headline story here is simple, and it's ugly: the majority voted for Stephen, the leadership doesn't like it, and now they're trying to ignore the majority vote. The "consensus" argument sounds like so much bull — no one believes that Hendren and Rep. Charlie Collins would be trying to stop the contract if their side won. 

A legislator with influence on the Legislative Council told me today that it is likely that the Council will approve the contract despite the objections from Hendren and Collins. Basically, no one likes the idea of overriding the majority vote. If the Council ignored the recommendation from the majority of the task force, the concern is that  that everyone involved would lose trust in the integrity of the process, bad blood would spoil the proceedings, and the task force would be neutered as a political entity. "If the Council were to override the task force vote than it's over, it's all blown up," the legislator said. 

According the legislator I spoke with, Gov. Asa Hutchinson is staying neutral — it's up to the Council whether to follow the advice of the majority of the task force or Hendren and Collins. 

The thing to keep in mind here is the pro-private option Republicans, including private option architect Sen. David Sanders, voted for PCG. The hardcore Tea Partiers voted for Stephen. It's not clear that either consultant would be a clear choice for the pro-PO or the aginner camps — both proposals broadly work from the framework of the continuation of coverage expansion. But reading between the lines, it's plausible that PCG represented the better hope for those wanting coverage expansion to continue — if some version of the private option is to remain in place, it will certainly need the backing of Sanders and Collins, and it will likely need to bring folks like Hendren or Sen. Cecil Bledsoe on board too. 

If that's the case, however, then the task force leadership needed to make their pitch to the four Democrats. And the Dems say they were in the dark — no one pushed them one way or the other. In other words, it sure looks like the leadership — which apparently really, really, really wanted things to break their way on the consultant choice — never built a coalition to get what they wanted. Now, they appear to be attempting to wind back the clock after the votes have been cast. That leaves them in an ugly political spot: even if it's absolutely vital to get PCG (or someone else) rather than Stephen as a consultant, overruling the majority on the task force would potentially undermine and derail the entire process. It's a no-win for Hendren and Collins. It's a mess. 


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