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(Video) Indiana Gov. Mike Pence defends Medicaid expansion during stop in Alabama

(Above: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence defends his “Healthy Indiana” plan in an interview with Yellowhammer’s Cliff Sims)

While Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was in Birmingham to speak at the Alabama Republican Party summer dinner, he sat down with Yellowhammer News CEO Cliff Sims to film an episode of The Exchange, Yellowhammer’s weekly interview feature.

Rather than releasing the entire interview at once, Yellowhammer is rolling it out in pieces throughout this week, an approach we will be trying out with future Exchange interviews as well.

Previous portions of the interview:
1. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence in Alabama discussing opting out of Common Core
2. Gov. Pence: Gary Palmer ‘man of integrity, strong conservative views’

After becoming Governor of Indiana in January of 2013, Pence drastically cut taxes and implemented school choice reforms, both of which earned him the praise of conservatives in his state. But his decision to expand Indiana’s Medicaid program raised some eyebrows, especially as many other Republican governors, like Alabama’s Robert Bentley, refused to add more people to the government’s healthcare rolls under ObamaCare.

“A decision you made as governor that surprised some folks was that you expanded Medicaid,” Sims said. “How do you reconcile the conservative approach that you’ve taken with some of these other issues with expanding what a lot of people would say is a giant government entitlement program under ObamaCare?”

Pence contended that his plan is actually a Medicaid expansion alternative that would expand the program using a state plan that promotes personal responsibility.

“When I was in the Congress, I was one of the leading opponents of ObamaCare,” Pence said. “I think ObamaCare should be repealed lock, stock and barrel. But any sensible repeal of ObamaCare should be accompanied with free market reforms that give people more choices in the purchase of health insurance, and it should be paired with block granting Medicaid back to the states so that states like Indiana and Alabama can craft Medicaid programs that’ll meet the unique needs of their population.”

But Pence’s critics say that is not what his plan does.

“By definition, Medicaid block grants give states a fixed, lump sum of federal dollars in exchange for broad autonomy in providing Medicaid benefits. Pence’s plan features neither of these elements,” a Forbes op-ed recently stated. “Under Pence’s ObamaCare expansion, Indiana will draw down increasing amounts of ObamaCare in exchange for adding more people to the Medicaid rolls.”

Pence contends, however, that his plan, dubbed Healthy Indiana, has been extremely successful and now boasts over 40,000 enrollees.

“We actually have people who are eligible for Medicaid who have health savings accounts, that choose preventative care, that move from emergency room to primary care,” he said. “It’s been an unqualified success in Indiana.”

Pence also said that he ruled out a state-based healthcare exchange, which ObamaCare called for, and did not expand “traditional Medicaid.”

“I think traditional Medicaid is a deeply flawed program that ill-serves people that are enrolled in it,” he said. “In Indiana we won’t expand traditional Medicaid. But if we can empower individuals through these health savings accounts known as ‘power accounts’ to take greater ownership in their own healthcare, I think it’s going to be right for Hoosiers. I think consumer-driven healthcare is the future of healthcare in this country.”

Pence’s Medicaid plan will no doubt be a major point of debate if he decides to run for President in 2016.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has said he will continue to oppose expanding Medicaid.

For more episodes of The Exchange, check out Yellowhammer TV.