POLITICS

Governors appeal to Congress for ‘flexibility’ on ObamaCare overhaul

Strategy Room: Brad Bauman and Frank McCarthy on the latest battle over health care

 

Governors from across the country personally appealed to Capitol Hill lawmakers on Monday for “flexibility” as Washington Republicans weigh how to overhaul the Affordable Care Act -- capping a critical weekend of meetings on the issue among lawmakers, White House officials and insurance CEOs.

“What works in Virginia, Colorado or Hawaii may not work in Utah,” the state’s Republican governor, Gary Herbert, said after meeting with congressional lawmakers. “We need to find a formula that works for everybody and gives flexibility to respective states based on demographics, politics, whatever. We’ve got to get away from a one size fits all.”

Herbert spoke on Capitol Hill at the conclusion of the National Governors Association’s annual winter meeting in Washington, D.C., at which ObamaCare was a top concern.  

“This is the hearing room where we discussed to what extent we can give back to states more flexibility on Medicaid and more opportunity to rescue the individual [ObamaCare] insurance markets that are collapsing,” said Tennessee GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Alexander and Herbert’s comments came as leaders of the GOP-controlled Congress face mounting pressure over ObamaCare. President Trump and essentially every Washington Republican campaigned on a vow to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law, amid rising premium costs and shrinking options.

But after nearly a month of work in Washington, they have yet to agree on how and when to fulfill the promise.

Tensions over the uncertainty flared during a congressional recess last week in which Republicans -- including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- were confronted at town hall meetings about plans to dismantle the law without a clear alternative.  

Trump is likely to discuss his goals for an ObamaCare repeal in his address Tuesday night to a joint session of Congress. Ahead of that speech, Trump met numerous times over the weekend with governors, including one-on-one sessions with Florida’s Rick Scott and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, both Republicans, on how to repeal and replace the law.

“We’ve got to fix this for every American,” Walker told Fox News on Monday, after meeting with Trump. “And we now have a partner who’s willing to do that and give the states the flexibility.”

Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe said the 46 governors who attended the winter meeting want every citizen to have quality health care.

And he praised the White House for including governors in the discussions, pointing out that Trump, Vice President Pence and new Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price all met with them.

However, he argued that the governors “still have not been provided with any information of the information that we want.”

Among the key issues is how taxpayers will pay for the costs of a replacement plan -- with lawmakers grappling over whether to continue to offers tax subsidies to help cover premiums costs and if some or all states should still be allowed to expand Medicaid to help low-income Americans get coverage.

Herbert said the median age in Utah is about 30, which makes his state unique and should afford him some flexibility.

Trump on Monday hinted the administration indeed has an ObamaCare replacement plan.  And he thanked the governors for their “talent and expertise” on the matter.  

“Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” Trump said.

At the conclusion of a subsequent meeting Monday with insurance executives, Trump again hinted at a replacement. “We have a plan that is going to be fantastic. It will be released fairly soon.”

He also called the insurance companies and their executives “the big ones” and said he would work with them to create a competitive marketplace and provide Americans with affordable insurance.