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Thirty of the nation's 50 governors are gathering in Providence, Rhode Island for the summer meetings of the National Governors Association. One of the hot topics of discussion among the chief executives is proposed changes to the nation's health care system.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a reworked health care bill on Thursday that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or, Obamacare. The revised bill adds money for states to help insurers curb increasing premiums, but retains the plan to cut Medicaid — a program many governors, including Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, rely on to provide health care to poor citizens in their respective states.
WBUR's Steve Brown, who attended the first day of the gathering, spoke with Morning Edition host Bob Oakes about some governor's reactions. Below is a transcript of their conversation, lightly edited:
Oakes: What was the reaction from governors to this latest version of the bill?
Brown: [Gov. Baker] said he had only had time to give the re-write a cursory look. He's eager to see how the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office rates this version. That's expected to be out sometime next week.
Now, the CBO score was the death knell for the previous Senate bill. It reported it would increase the number of uninsured people by 22 million.
So while he wouldn't quite criticize the new bill, [Baker] did reiterate his concern that whatever Congress does, it allows the Medicaid waiver that Massachusetts negotiated with the federal government remain in place.
"That waiver contains a number of key elements to help us help people deal with both behavioral health and addiction issues and represents, from our point of view, a deal. And I would like to see the federal government honor that deal," Baker said.
The governor has said in the past that losing that Medicaid money would have a financial impact of over $8 billion just to Massachusetts alone.
So what are other governors saying about this new Senate bill?
Not surprisingly, Democratic governors are highly critical of the plan.
Connecticut's Gov. Dannel Malloy said Senate Republicans continue to put American lives on the line for no other reason than following through on an ill-advised campaign pledge.
"This would still cost state of Connecticut close to $3 billion a year to provide services currently provided. It makes no sense and is literally a death warrant for hundreds of thousands of Americans," Malloy said.
Another Democrat, Rhode Island's Gina Raimondo, who is hosting this gathering of governors is also highly critical of the bill and very concerned of what it could do to the citizens of her state.
"This bill, the last bill would really hurt Rhode Islanders. We have about 100,000 Rhode Islanders who now have health care because of the Affordable Care Act, and they’ll almost certainly lose their coverage. This was almost certainly lead to job losses at our hospitals and other health care facilities. I think it’s immoral. I think it’s wrong," Raimondo said.
Steve, were you able to connect with any Republican governors, other than Charlie Baker?
I did reach out to Gov. [Chris] Sununu, of New Hampshire, and Gov. [Paul] LePage, of Maine, but didn't hear back from them.
I do have some quotes from Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, of Kentucky, who had some positive things to say about the bill. He says it puts more emphasis on state control and flexibility to design health care programs.
"What we have is broken. Give the states the control and the flexibility, and we'll take care of the problem. We can produce healthier outcomes," Bevin said.
What's ahead for the governors in this meeting?
On Friday, they'll hear from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He's the first foreign leader to address the NGA. They'll also hear from Vice President Mike Pence, who just a year ago was a governor himself. As vice president, Pence could very well be called upon to cast the tie-breaking vote on this re-write of the health care bill. I'm sure many of the current governors would like to speak with him about that.
This segment aired on July 14, 2017.