Two newly elected governors on opposing sides of reform debate
Voters last week made governors of two longtime and controversial healthcare figures, one of whom is strongly in favor of reforming the delivery system, and one who takes credit for killing a key feature of the federal reform laws before the final vote in Congress.
In Oregon, voters returned former emergency room physician and past two-term governor John Kitzhaber to a third term in the state’s top elected office. Kitzhaber, a Democrat, is the first Oregon governor to serve nonconsecutive terms, and is known for founding the pro-reform Archimedes Movement in 2006. As a state senator in the 1990s, he was chief author of a plan to prioritize what medical treatments Oregon’s Medicaid program could afford.
In Florida, former Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. CEO Rick Scott won his first elected office last week, becoming governor of one of the most populous and politically significant states. Scott, a Republican, in 2009 chaired and bankrolled Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, which claims to have defeated proposals to establish a national public insurance option. Questionable Medicare billing practices at Columbia/HCA under Scott in the mid-1990s resulted in the hospital chain paying some $1.7 billion in fines.
Neither future governor scored a majority of the vote. Kitzhaber won by nearly 17,000 votes, with nearly 41,000 of the 1.4 million votes in the race going to third-party candidates. Scott won by about 61,000 votes, with nearly 182,000 of the 5.3 million votes in the race going to third-party candidates, according to unofficial returns.
Both governors will preside over the planned expansions in Medicaid coverage outlined in the healthcare reform law, but the picture is particularly interesting in Florida, where Scott will have to make a quick decision on funding that could affect nearly every community hospital in the state.
Namely, that is whether the state should ask for an extension of its current Medicaid waiver, which injects at least $500 million in federal subsidies into the state’s coffers for its public insurance program for the poor.
Florida also is the lead plaintiff and home to the court of original jurisdiction in the 20-state federal lawsuit to block the reform law’s mandate to carry insurance.
Scott did not win by a majority in Florida.
Kitzhaber was elected to a third term.