Divide Over Medicaid Remains Following Bipartisan Meeting

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Juliegrace Brufke Capitol Hill Reporter
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A bipartisan group of governors from across the country came to Capitol Hill to discuss how to best move forward with health care reform with top lawmakers Monday.

While a consensus has not yet been met on issues including how to address Medicaid expansion, members of both parties agreed they are focused on finding a solution that keeps people covered while driving down costs.

“We did not expand Medicaid and many states are divided on the right approach to take under ACA,” said Utah Republican Gov. Gary Herbert. “We all have the same goals to make sure that people have access and most vulnerable among us have access to quality healthcare.”

GOP Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, whose state opted to expand Medicaid, said he’s optimistic they can reach a compromise that brings more flexibility to the states — resulting in an increase in options and lower costs.

“All there are drafts out there that are constantly changing. And so I have confidence, and this is important that we’re an expansion state, that we are going to come up with a solution that makes it more affordable for the states and bends the cost curve for the federal government, but at the same time does not rip the heart out of the health care systems that have been built in the states,” Hutchinson told reporters.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has repeatedly said working with the states on the issue was important for him, noting he sent a letter requesting governors’ input in December.

“Our health care system is broken and will collapse if nothing is done. Premiums are rising, coverage options are disappearing, and Medicaid is on track to transform into a $1 trillion annual entitlement program we simply cannot afford,” McCarthy said in a statement after the meeting. “In Congress, we are committed to getting this right, and we know governors are important partners—especially when it comes to addressing the needs of state Medicaid programs while providing a stable transition away from Obamacare.”

Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe stressed governors on both ends of the political spectrum are concerned about ensuring no one loses care during the transition.

“We all say the same thing: We all want all of our citizens to have quality health care, we want it as low-cost as possible and we want it efficient. The devil is in the details,” he told reporters. “We want to make sure nobody loses their health care, that is obviously the number one issue all the governors have.”

Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden said while there is common ground to be found, he’s not pleased with the way House Republicans want to pursue passing the legislation.

“The message has always been if there’s a willingness to set aside the most partisan scheme in government known as reconciliation, this is not something people talk about at the local coffee shop, it’s the most partisan scheme in government,” Wyden said. “Certainly they’re concerned about the lack of cost containment generally. And again, I come back to some of the opportunities if you can set aside the partisanship, for example, if you have larger insurance pools, you create more bargaining power and you’re in a position to hold down costs number one and you can help attract more healthy young people, which helps drive costs down.”

While there were no major breakthroughs, heads of state on both sides of the aisle stated the gathering was productive.

“It is totally unprecedented in my political history to have this kind of engagement between the governors and Congress,” Hutchinson said. “You have the congressional leaders in there, the key writers of tax policy and the legislation that addresses the Affordable Care Act. And so for them to be listening to the governors at this level of detail is extraordinary, but it’s also helpful.”

McAulliffe said the discussion was so successful they plan to have quarterly talks, adding he believes discussions with Congress are critical since governors are tasked with implementing the policies they put forward.

“This is the beginning of the process on what we are going to do on ACA, they clearly listened to us and I can not tell you how appreciative we all are,” he said.

While the House Republicans’ blueprint was discussed, GOP governors plan to put forward a plan of their own.

“The Republican governors have been working on a proposal as well, so that’s a work in progress. I hope sooner than a couple of weeks. House is readying their bill,” GOP Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval told reporters. “Well, I don’t think it’s a race, I mean, what I think everyone agrees on is that is should be a thoughtful process — nobody wants to rush to judgement. One of the universal themes that I’ve heard is nobody wants to see anybody in the country left without coverage.”

The heads of state met with President Donald Trump at the White House earlier in the day. Health care reform is expected to be highlighted in Trump’s first joint address to Congress Tuesday.

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