WASHINGTON — Obama administration officials are celebrating New Years early by touting a spike in government healthcare enrollment, and are rooting hard for more states, including Alabama, to expand their Medicaid programs under ObamaCare in early 2015.
“As of October 2014, approximately 9.7 million additional Americans were enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP – a 17 percent increase over the average monthly enrollment for July through September 2013,” said Cindy Mann, Deputy Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and Director of the Centers for Medicaid and CHIP Services. “(S)tates can expand their Medicaid programs to cover more people at any time. And, even more Americans could access affordable coverage if all states take the Medicaid expansion option.”
As of today, 26 states and Washington, D.C., have expanded their Medicaid programs under ObamaCare.
“Coverage for newly eligible adult beneficiaries is fully federally paid for under the Affordable Care Act through 2016, and never less than 90 percent for the years following,” said Mann. “Pennsylvania will become the 27th state when coverage starts on January 1, 2015.”
The Obama Administration is particularly excited about the Pennsylvania expansion because it is being spearheaded by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.
Similar to Pennsylvania and Arkansas, which is also led by a Republican governor, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has said he’d like to be able to funnel federal tax dollars through the state government and into private insurers. They would then use those taxpayer dollars to cover uninsured individuals up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, the same ultimate outcome as Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare. The difference is that by receiving a “waiver” from the Obama administration, Republican governors have been able to participate in ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion while selling to their conservative constituents as something completely different. In Pennsylvania they call it the “Healthy PA” plan. In Arkansas it’s commonly referred to as the “private option.”
Mann said the Administration is optimistic that Alabama and other Republican-controlled states will follow in the footsteps of Pennsylvania in the near future. She also trumpeted the fact that government healthcare enrollment has increased much faster in states that have expanded Medicaid.
“Several other states have recently indicated their plan to pursue expansion in 2015,” she said. “This is encouraging because Medicaid and CHIP enrollment in states with expanded Medicaid programs rose by over 24 percent since before the initial open enrollment in Marketplace began, in comparison to nearly 7 percent in states that have not expanded Medicaid.”
But while the Obama Administration is optimistically waiting for Gov. Bentley to expand Medicaid, conservative groups in Alabama have already begun preemptively pushing for him to stick to his campaign promise to not take the expansion.
Two dozen grassroots conservative leaders from across Alabama wrote a letter to the governor last week.
“You campaigned specifically on not expanding Medicaid, and according to recent media reports from multiple outlets, you are now open to expanding it,” they wrote. “Therefore, we are writing to encourage you, if not demand of you, that you immediately put these rumors to rest and state for the record once and for all that Medicaid expansion will not happen under your watch now or ever.”
Katherine Robertson of the Alabama Policy Institute, the state’s leading conservative think tank, also penned an op-ed warning that Alabamians should not be fooled by a “backdoor approach to Medicaid expansion.”
“Republican Governors and legislators who have repeatedly laid out principled cases against Medicaid expansion should not be permitted to repackage expansion under new nomenclature,” Robertson concluded. “We should not be fooled. These state-sponsored alternatives are merely a backdoor approach to Medicaid expansion as introduced in the Affordable Care Act. Such plans are costly, unsustainable, inflexible, and most of all, not free.”
But while Gov. Bentley has — since being re-elected — expressed his desire to expand Medicaid coverage to individuals up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, he has maintained that whatever plan he proposes will not violate his promise to not expand Medicaid.
“I’ve said that I’m not going to expand Medicaid, and I’m not,” Bentley said on the Matt Murphy Show. “What I was talking about is if the federal government would give me block grants — that means gives us the money with no strings attached, basically — so that we could help — help — those in the 100 to 138 percent poverty level that are already working or in workforce training.”
The core problem Republican governors have had with expanding Medicaid in any form is that the Obama administration has to sign off on any proposal. For instance, Bentley has often mentioned some form of work or workforce training requirement for new individuals receiving insurance under his plan, but similar requirements in Pennsylvania were dropped when the Obama Administration balked.
“The chances are that the federal government’s not going to do that,” Bentley said. “But if the federal government would give me the block grant money and let me design it through Blue Cross or United Health or someone like that, (we could) let them design a program to help people temporarily as they try to better themselves with workforce training and those in the lower socioeconomic group, but they have to be working.”
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— Cliff Sims (@Cliff_Sims) December 3, 2014