Hutchin­son, peers dis­cuss pol­icy con­cerns with Trump

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN MORITZ

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.

AP/EVAN VUCCI

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.

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