Governors at odds on Medicaid
Republicans set with plan; Democrats say it will cut coverage
WASHINGTON — Tensions emerged Saturday between Democratic and Republican governors over a GOP-led proposal for an overhaul of Medicaid, with Democrats saying the changes would take away people’s health coverage to finance tax cuts for the wealthy.
GOP governors intend to present Congress with a plan that they say would give states more flexibility to administer health coverage for poorer residents while protecting states from absorbing the costs of repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Democratic governors said Saturday that their Republican counterparts were being dishonest about the effects of their plan.
“They want to spend less money on people’s health care so they can do tax cuts for the rich. They’ve tried to put this camouflage on it that somehow they’re giving governors flexibility. We’ve got plenty of flexibility,” Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said. “This is not what we are asking for.”
While major changes to former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law appear inevitable with Republicans controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, Inslee said there’s still a chance that Democrats can win over GOP lawmakers who’ve been facing angry constituents at town-hall-style meetings.
“People are madder than hops about this. Look, there’s four Republican members of the House in the state of Washington, and they’re now in the witness- protection program,” Inslee said. “We think churches are going to offer them sanctuary at some point, given how mad people are about this.”
Inslee, whose national profile is rising as Democrats look for new leaders after Hillary Clinton’s loss in November, led a successful legal challenge against President Donald Trump’s ban on travel Muslimfrom seven countries. predominantly
The angry rhetoric over health care changes brought a dose of political reality to the nonpartisan National Governors Association’s winter meeting, where governors otherwise spend time praising one another and participating in panels on noncontroversial topics, such as early-childhood education, a cause that got a boost from actress Jennifer Garner.
On Saturday afternoon, the governors met in private with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who according to several governors said the Trump administration wanted to partner with states to overhaul health care but did not provide specifics.
Meanwhile, at the White House, Trump met with two Republican governors, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Florida’s Rick Scott, and discussed “how best to solve the problems” of the Obama-era health law, with “special emphasis” on states’ role in health care, according to a statement by his spokesman. The governors will meet with Trump and congressional leaders Monday. The governors also listened to a consultant’s report about the fiscal effect of a Medicaid overhaul on states. The report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, predicted that Medicaid changes being proposed by House Republicans would result in tens of thousands of people losing their insurance coverage in an average-size state. Inslee and Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia called the report “disturbing.” Republican Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky said that if Democrats were disturbed, they haven’t been paying attention.
“The kind of conversation that’s being had now — sobering, shocking, surprising as it might be to some — is the conversation that we must have because the piper has to get paid at some point,” Bevin said. “People are looking at reality, and that’s good.”
The GOP governors’ proposal, a draft of which was obtained by the AP, urges Congress to change Medicaid from an open-ended federal entitlement to a program designed by each state within a financial limit. Medicaid provides insurance to more than 70 million low-income Americans, and states had the option of making it available to more people under Obama’s health care overhaul.
Some of the GOP governors behind the proposal, including Ohio’s John Kasich, opted to expand Medicaid in their states despite pressure from conservatives.
Another GOP governor in a Medicaid expansion state, Doug Ducey of Arizona, said Democrats were failing to acknowledge the shortcomings of Obama’s health law and the need for urgent changes.
“We don’t want to see any citizen have the rug pulled out from underneath them, yet we know Obamacare is failing,” Ducey said, referring to the law. “We’re working hard to put together a plan that will replace Obamacare and actually be an improvement for health care, be a real reform of the Medicaid system.”
It’s not clear whether House Republicans will accept the GOP governors’ proposal. Many congressional Republicans want to rewrite the basic financial contract for Medicaid, offering flexibility to states in exchange for limits on future federal funding. Budget hawks including House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., support the kind of program flexibility Republican governors are seeking, but chiefly want to spend less on Medicaid.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks with a reporter Saturday during the National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Washington.