Hutchinson, peers discuss policy concerns with Trump
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he and other governors met with President Donald Trump on Monday to discuss “a myriad of issues” including health care policy.
The working meeting in the State Dining Room of the White House — which Hutchinson recalled for its large portrait of Abraham Lincoln — marked the tail end of the National Governors Association winter meeting in Washington, D.C. Trump gave public remarks to the governors, and his subsequent meeting with them was closed to the press.
Hutchinson said Trump previewed some of what will appear in his speech tonight to a joint session of Congress, in which the president will present his budget and legislative agenda.
The governors expressed to the president their desire to see Trump use the speech to lay out plans for health care policy, Hutchinson said. The governors will present their own health care plan later this week, Hutchinson said.
The Arkansas governor said he had prepared a list of subjects to broach with Trump but only had time to bring up one, on agricultural trade policy.
“I expressed concern to
him over trade barriers and tariff retaliation” and their impact on Arkansas farmers, Hutchinson said in a phone interview Monday afternoon.
In addition to visiting with Trump, Hutchinson said he attended working group meetings with Vice President Mike Pence, himself a former Republican governor from Indiana, and Health and Human Services Secretary Thomas Price to discuss health care policy under the administration.
Arkansas is one of 32 states that uses expanded Medicaid eligibility under then- President Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Trump has said he will scrap and replace the Affordable Care Act with a separate — yet to be defined — program.
The state’s program, now known as Arkansas Works, uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for people earning up to 138 percent of the poverty line. That’s about $ 33,465 for a family of four. More than
300,000 Arkansans have signed up for the program.
A report by the consulting firms Avalere Health and McKinsey & Co. presented to the governors during the National Governors Association meetings concluded that the changes under consideration by the GOP-led House would reduce significantly federal funding for Medicaid and subsidize private insurance, creating funding gaps for states and threatening a loss of coverage for many participants.
Hutchinson said a subject not brought up during the meeting with Trump was specific guidance on what lies ahead for states that have set up programs reliant on the federal cash from the Affordable Care Act.
“That’s details discussed in working groups,” Hutchinson said. “[ The president] gives direction on what he wants to do.”
The “consensus” among the president’s team and the assembled governors was that “repeal and replace” continues to be the most viable option, instead of altering existing parts of the law while keeping the majority of it in place, Hutchinson said.
During his public remarks, Trump told the governors that the Affordable Care Act was ready to “implode” during the next two years unless changes are made. He suggested that it would be politically expedient for Republicans to let the federal health care system fail, and then place the blame on Democrats, while adding “that’s not the fair thing to do for the people.”
“It’s an unbelievably complex subject,” Trump said. “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”
For lawmakers in Little Rock tasked with approving funds or changes to the program, the need for guidance is simpler, Arkansas House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, said.
“The main thing we’re looking for is, are they going to continue expansion in any way, shape, form or fashion,” Gillam said. “It’s almost kind of a yes or no question for the feds.”
After his meeting with Hutchinson and the other governors Monday, Trump held a private meeting with the heads of major health insurers.
The meeting included leaders from Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, Humana, UnitedHealth Group, Aetna, Anthem, Kaiser Permanente and the industry lobbying group, America’s Health Insurance Plans.
In remarks before that meeting, Trump called for expanded health- savings accounts, which are tax-exempt financial accounts used to pay for medical expenses.
Hutchinson said the governors’ meeting with Trump — which also was attended by Price, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly — also touched on flexibility for education and immigration policy.
Trump described his policy on immigration as “going after the bad guys,” according to Hutchinson.
The role states would play in enforcing that policy was not something brought up by either the governors or Trump, the Arkansas governor said.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin speaks Monday to reporters outside the White House following a meeting with President Donald Trump. From left are, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Bevin, and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin.