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Kathleen Sebelius Hasn’t Read the “Private Option” Bill. Senator Rapert, I Demand A Denunciation!

Updated: Apr 13

You may have heard about the kerfuffle earlier this week at our legislative luncheon on the “private option.” One state senator was apparently aghast to learn that one of our experts from the Heritage Foundation hadn’t read the most recent version of the legislature’s Medicaid expansion bill, arguing that he obviously therefore couldn’t have any informed comments on the matter. In fact, this revelation prompted him to storm out of the room in protest. It also resulted in a Twitter war between legislators and the @AdvanceAR account — a feud that intermittently erupted through most of the week. 

Today, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius appeared before the House Ways & Means Committee in Washington. She was questioned by Arkansas Rep. Tim Griffin about the “Arkansas Plan.” Specifically, Griffin asked her if she had read the bill that the House passed yesterday: “No sir,” she said.

Rep. Griffin asked Sebelius if she has decided whether or not to approve the plan: “No sir,” she said.

Anticipating what any legislative body may do before they do it is probably not a very beneficial expenditure of time.

Sebelius continued:

I assume my staff has been in close touch with the Arkansas staff, but again we have not looked at the…when the bill passes, we’ll be happy to take a look at it.

So, to recap: 1. Kathleen Sebelius has not read the Arkansas plan, 2. Sebelius has not approved the Arkansas plan, 3. We need to pass the Arkansas plan so Sebelius can find out what’s in it.

First of all, I’d like to demand a denunciation from Senators Rapert and Dismang, as well as Rep. Davis and a few journalists, who have been hassling AAI staff all week for allegedly having an expert speak that had not read the private option bill. If I’ve learned one thing from them this week, it’s that no one can have an informed opinion about expanding Medicaid without reading their bill. In fact, Senator Rapert even compared us to Nancy Pelosi for speaking against a bill we hadn’t read (we don’t speak against bills, but that’s what he said). Now the state wants to move forward with a contract with the feds that the feds haven’t even read or approved? I demand outrage from these legislators, directed at Secretary Sebelius!

Secondly, how in the heck is that state considering entering into a contract with HHS and the feds when their own director, who supposedly authorized the “private option,” now says she hasn’t even read the plan?

(A note for those who are immune to both irony and sarcasm: it might be helpful to understand that whatever passes the state legislature still must comport with federal law and the state Medicaid plan. The Medicaid experts that AAI brought in were discussing the constraints that Medicaid and other federal law imposes on any Medicaid reform that Arkansas produces. What this kerfuffle suggests is that legislators have received little or nothing from the federal government that provides assurance that the federal government will accept the plan.)

From the beginning of this debate, we have told legislators repeatedly that they’re playing with fire by trusting the federal government’s word on this deal. Now we find out that no deal was ever made? The “private option” is approaching the status of a policy disaster and a PR disaster. It’s time for legislators to abandon it.

Here’s the video of the exchange between Sebelius and Griffin:

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