Governors expect no action from White House on states' Medicaid plea

With the cost of Medicaid the premier cause of the massive debt that grips most states, the nation’s governors arrived in Washington Saturday anticipating that the crisis will be addressed by President Obama and other officials when in meetings over the next few days.

But, almost to a governor, the Republican chief executives who are here for the twice-a-year National Governors Association meeting expect no action at all from the administration on giving them the flexibility they say they need to combat the Medicaid debt.

“If Medicaid were in the form of bloc grants [to the states], it would help,” Nebraska Gov. David Heinemann told HUMAN EVENTS during the NGA opening Saturday, “I prefer more flexibility on a variety of programs.” But he stopped short of predicting whether the administration would actually make the change in Medicaid or issue the waivers that Republican governors say would give them their desired flexibility.

Indiana’s Gov. Mitch Daniels told me  “we’ve been turned down twice for waivers [by the Department of Health and Human Services] and I’m going to try one more time this week.  But I’ve never gotten more than lip service from them about waivers to deal with Medicaid.”

When I pointed out that the governors had meetings with the president scheduled and asked if he would bring it up personally with Mr. Obama when they meet, Daniels replied: “If I get the chance.  I hope there is a chance.”

I quoted earlier remarks from Democratic Gov. Jack Markel that the President had asked governors in a previous meeting “what flexibility are you looking for,” Daniels simply said: “So they say.”

Mississippi’s newly-elected Republican Gov. Phil Bryant told me without hesitation that he “absolutely will” bring up his desire for a waiver to deal with Medicaid on his terms in Mississippi when and if he has some time with the president.

“Look, we’ve added 36,000 to the Medicaid rolls in Mississippi last year and that means the state will have to match the $100 million from the federal government [in Medicaid funding],” he said, “And we can’t afford it.  If we continue going this way, it will mean a tax increase and we can’t afford that.  Just give me the necessary funding, but then let me be free to work out programs [at the state level] that will have a substantial savings without reduction of care.  There are any number of ways to give us more independence on this issue.”

Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, was perhaps the most direct.  When I asked if he expected any results from the administration on flexibility for the states on Medicaid, he shrugged and said: “I doubt it.”