White House

Governors head for Washington, will press Trump on Obamacare repeal

Ohio Gov. John Kasich is trying to protect the Medicaid expansion under Obama Care from repeal.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich is trying to protect the Medicaid expansion under Obama Care from repeal. AP

Governors from across the nation are heading for Washington, D.C., Friday and are desperate to find out how President Donald Trump and a Republican Congress plan to replace Obamacare.

More than 11 million adults in 31 states – many of them with Republican governors – are covered under the sweeping Medicaid expansion allowed under Obamacare.

Governors on their way to the National Governors Association meetings in Washington, which begins Friday and runs through Monday, said they’ll raise the issue with Trump and members of Congress who are promising to repeal Obamacare.

Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich, who has called repealing the Medicaid expansion “a very, very bad idea” will have a private meeting with the president on Friday.

Kasich, one of the last Republicans to drop out of last year’s GOP presidential nominating race, will participate in talks at the National Governors Association meetings on “health care reform and finding a responsible path forward,” said Kasich’s spokeswoman, Emmalee Kalmbach.

He’s among a group of Republican governors at the core of talks seeking a thus-far highly elusive Obamacare replacement. Their influence is growing with Congressional Republicans unable to find consensus on the plan and facing protests back home over plans to repeal the health care law.

The governors are especially worried about what will happen to Medicaid, the health care program primarily for low income Americans. Even conservative Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, whose state did not agree to the federal Medicaid expansion, said people who already received coverage should not lose it.

Brownback said “Obamacare repeal and replace is going to be the top discussion” at the governors meetings.

“The governors are going to be at the tip of the spear on that. You’ve got to do it in such a way that you are repealing but you’re not kicking people off,” he said.

How to handle Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid has become a gigantic puzzle for Republicans in Congress who have vowed to repeal Obamacare but are struggling to find a replacement.

All Medicaid costs for the newly eligible recipients were funded by the federal government for the last three years. Trump and congressional Republicans want to change all that including the funding formula for Medicaid. Governors worry about what it means for their states.

“It’s pretty clear the governors would like a seat at the table as these things are discussed,” said Jim Hodges, a Democrat and former governor of South Carolina. “With Medicaid the money is spent and the programs are administered at the state level.”

There are divisions. Democrats as well as some Republican governors such as Kasich and Michigan’s Rick Snyder are urging Trump to keep the Medicaid expansion aspect of Obamacare. But Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin urged repeal of Obamacare “in its entirety.”

Bevin said in a Thursday interview that he expects the issue to largely dominate the National Governors Association meetings.

“We’re going to talk about really returning power to the states,” he said. “Health care reform, criminal justice reform are certainly going to be primary among those.”

Thirty-three of the nation’s governors are Republicans. All governors have scheduled a closed-door session on Saturday to discuss health care issues. They’ll meet with Trump on Monday, following a Friday lunch with Vice President Mike Pence. It’s unusual for a vice president to host the event, said Hodges, but Pence was the governor of Indiana before being sworn in last month.

“I would not be at all surprised if Trump does not lean heavily on Pence as his conduit to the governors on policy issues,” Hodges said.

Although health care is likely to be the biggest issue, some of the governors are headed to Washington in a fighting mood over President Trump’s plans to deport undocumented immigrants.

“We will not stand by as the president and other leaders stoke fear and evoke damaging stereotypes to promote hateful policies that make our communities less safe, not more — not in Washington state,” said Washington state Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, speaking to reporters at a news conference before boarding a flight to Washington, D.C.

While Trump has been busy signing his executive orders, Inslee signed one of his own on Thursday, saying that state agencies would play no role in Trump’s plans to “break up families.”

Sean Cockerham: 202-383-6016, @seancockerham

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