Dynamics of Health Debate Change in Arkansas (AP Analysis)

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Monday, May. 13, 2013 8:20 am  

"I think there's an important political lesson that there's significant political division on the other side and that's beneficial to Arkansas Democrats going forward," state Democratic Party Chairman Will Bond said.

Republicans, however, say they remain united against the health overhaul even if there were disagreements over the private option plan, and say they believe the law remains toxic in the eyes of voters.

"At the end of the day, (Democrats are) still going to have to own Obamacare and be responsible for the votes they cast for it," said David Ray, a spokesman for the state GOP.

House Speaker Davy Carter, who is mulling a run for governor, may be the greatest test of whether opponents of the health care law can live with a plan to implement part of it. Carter and other supporters of the private option advocated it as the best, most conservative way to mitigate what they called the harmful effects of the federal health overhaul.

Implementing the private option and accompanying efforts to curb Medicaid costs are going to be a key part of the governor's race, Carter has said.

"I don't think there's any doubt that over the next four years the most pressing issue is going to be how we implement the private option and make sure we're managing that correctly and make sure we realize the cost savings on these other waste fraud and abuse bills," Carter said last month.

It's unclear how much Carter would be on the defense over the private option in the GOP primary. Former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, who is seeking the Republican nomination, has said he would have signed the plan into law but would have wanted a special session to address the issue. Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman has opposed the private option.

The issue may still loom, though, with a group hoping to put the private option on the ballot next year as a referendum. Glenn Gallas, chairman of the Arkansans Against Big Government group, said the effort is aimed primarily at letting voters decide on the issue but acknowledges it will also have a role in next year's election.

"I think it's actually going to define not necessarily the election but more the primaries," Gallas said. "I think the health care debate as framed is going to change. "

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