White House Takes Pitch for Health-Care Bill to U.S. Governors

  • HHS secretary follows vice president, who spoke on Friday
  • Democratic and Republicans governors remain wary of the bill

The Trump administration took its case directly to U.S. governors that the pending Senate health-care bill won’t hurt their residents with insurance, even as critics say it will cut billions in funding and leave millions more people without coverage.

Governors gathered at their summer meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, are trying to sift through the competing rhetoric to form a firm position on the measure to convey to lawmakers.

“You listen to one side, and they said, ‘Your funding’s not going to be decreased,”’ said Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, a Republican. “You listen to the other side, and you hear that you’re going to lose hundreds of millions of dollars. As a governor, it’s incumbent upon me to sort that out.’’

Sandoval spoke to reporters after a closed-door session Saturday with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Seema Verna, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “I have to be convinced that shaking that Etch A Sketch now for the people in Nevada, are they going to be in a better position?’’ he said.

Nevada senator Dean Heller, a Republican up for re-election in 2018 in a state that Democrat Hillary Clinton won in the 2016 presidential election, is seen as a key vote on the bill.

Vice President Mike Pence spoke to the National Governors Association summer gathering and also lobbied governors privately on the bill on Friday. President Donald Trump tweeted about the Senate measure four times on Friday alone.

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The White House is attempting to win over governors, especially Republicans such as Sandoval who expanded Medicaid in their states. They’re concerned about cuts to Medicaid and what they see as shifting costs for the joint federal-state health-care program that provides coverage to the poor and elderly to the states.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to hold a vote next week to replace President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The bill already has drawn two firm no votes -- Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine -- leaving McConnell no margin for losing Republican support to get the 50 votes he needs. All Democrats are expected to vote against the measure.

Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, a Republican whose state expanded Medicaid, said he thinks the bill has been improved from an earlier version, with $70 billion added to help stabilize health-insurance exchanges and flexibility grants to states to help people transition from Medicaid to private insurance. While he’s “open” to the bill, he’s waiting for the final version.

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“The bill that we’re looking at today is probably not the bill that’s actually going to be voted on,” Hutchinson told reporters after meeting with Price and Verma. “Our job is to influence the direction of that and try to make the improvements that work for the states.’’

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican and former presidential candidate, said he met with Pence and Price on Friday but still hasn’t taken a final position. “We’re hopeful they’re going to get to a point where they’re going to have a repeal and replace that works,’’ Walker said.

Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, a former governor, also spoke to state chief executives in private on Saturday and said he thinks the odds of the bill passing are a toss-up. He’s advocating hitting “the pause button” on the process that McConnell is keen to fast-forward, and said the input from governors “on the firing line” is important.

“We don’t need a Democratic victory, we don’t need a Republican victory here, we don’t need a victory for the president,” Carper told reporters. “We need a victory for our country and for 50 states, and the voices of the governors is critical.’’

Pence, a former Indiana governor who expanded Medicaid in his state, acknowledged in Friday’s speech the concerns that governors of both parties have raised about the cuts to Medicaid. He said that the Senate measure would restore Medicaid to its original purpose of helping the poor and disabled while giving states the flexibility to administer it properly.

Democratic governors scoffed. The Congressional Budget Office has said Medicaid funding in the previous version of the bill amounted to a cut of $772 billion from current projections over a decade.

“President Trump promised everybody gets covered, it will cost less money and you will get better results,” Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat and chairman of the National Governors Association, said in an interview. “None of that is in this bill.”

— With assistance by Laura Litvan, and Steven T. Dennis

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