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State Sen. David Sanders on the ‘Stop-Gap’ Private Option, Health Care Reform

3 min read

David Sanders has served in the state Senate since 2013, when he helped craft the state’s private option, which uses federal money to purchase private insurance for poor Arkansans. Prior to joining the Senate, he served one term in the state House of Representatives. In 1996, Sanders worked on the transition team for Gov. Mike Huckabee before joining his staff as a policy and communications aide from 1997-98. He worked in the health care services division of a Fortune 500 company from 1999-2005 and as a political journalist for Stephens Media and AETN from 2000-09.

Sanders is currently the director of institutional advancement at the Arkansas Baptist School, where he has worked since 2006. He graduated from Ouachita Baptist University in 1997.

Why did you consider some form of Medicaid expansion to be important?

I didn’t two and half years ago and I don’t now. What I consider to be important is reforming a broken system of health care coverage, delivery and finance. Washington made that harder with the Affordable Care Act.

I believe the health care system will function best when individuals, not governments, are empowered to make decisions about their care so that they become consumers and not users. That means working for a system that’s transparent and that gives health care consumers the ability to make decisions based on price and quality. We’re not there yet, but that’s the goal.

The private option uses federal dollars to help purchase private coverage for people who otherwise would be segregated into the state/federally run Medicaid program, which is what President Obama wanted. The eventual goal for many left-wing Democrats is to transform private American health care into a government-run — single-payer — enterprise. The private option represents the opposite approach by injecting private sector influence into a space reserved for governments. The private option is a three-year stop-gap measure that allows us to shrink the Medicaid rolls, blunt some of the damage of the Affordable Care Act and gives us the time and space to work for bottom-up reform that empowers individuals to become consumers.

Has it accomplished what you hoped?

Somewhat. Critics on the left and right earnestly predicted that the private option’s costs would skyrocket from day one and that Arkansas taxpayers would be at risk. The costs for the first year are not only below their projections, but are under our projections. We have a lot more work to do.

Are there changes you personally want to see?

Several. My view is that social welfare programs and spending, particularly for those who are able-bodied working adults, are temporary and must be aimed at encouraging an individual’s (or a family’s) upward mobility, productive citizenship and work. We need to finish the job that was started 20-plus years ago with welfare reform.

What kind of tweaking might be done to the private option to make it palatable to enough Republicans to get the necessary 75 percent vote in both houses of the legislature?

I’m a reformer, not a tweaker. Our work is bigger than the private option though it’s an important component. Reforming health care means tackling the entire system and helping all Arkansans, particularly employers, who are coping with the harmful effects of the ACA and the increased costs the state has placed on businesses.

How will Republicans who campaigned against the private option be able to vote for it?

I don’t know that they can.

What are the best conservative arguments for preserving the private option?

It’s not about arguments or rhetoric; it’s about demonstrating a commitment to overall health care reform and not a commitment to the private option.

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