Congress left town for the July 4th recess without taking action on legislation that would give states additional Medicaid funding through June of next year. A bipartisan group of governors who came to Washington last week said that without the extra funds they would have to make budget cuts beginning July 1. Separately, the Obama administration continues to promote elements of the new health care law – including the launch of the website healthcare.gov – while Republicans continue their push to repeal the law.
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JACKIE JUDD: Good day. I’m Jackie Judd with Health on the Hill. Lawmakers left Washington a few days ago for the July 4th break with some unfinished business, which may be taken up when they return next week. To discuss this and more, Mary Agnes Carey, senior correspondent for Kaiser Health News. Welcome, as always.
MARY AGNES CAREY: Thank you.
JACKIE JUDD: The Democratic leadership tried repeatedly to get increased federal funding for Medicaid passed. Is it a dead issue at this point? Does this week at home and what they may hear from constituents and state lawmakers change the prognosis at all?
MARY AGNES CAREY: I think it absolutely is not dead, and I think it will keep it alive. Last week, Republican and Democratic governors came to Washington to make their case to say if we don’t get this additional money, we have to make cuts now, beginning July 1st, because our state budgets start then and we need to know if we are not getting additional funding, we need to start making cuts now.
I think that local officials will bring home the same message to their lawmakers during this July 4th break. If they are worried about cuts in education programs, if they are worried about winding, taking down from the state surplus funding to help pay the Medicaid that must be paid, the bills, the number of people that have enrolled, as we know, has increased with the recession; so I think this drumbeat will certainly keep up to put pressure on Congress to act.
JACKIE JUDD: What kind of compromises could be hatched?
MARY AGNES CAREY: Well, there was a concern for example, I believe it was Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican, had said that she wanted to see the additional Medicaid money end at some point, so they had lowered the amount, had fixed it so it would phase down over six months. That has yet to bring Republican support to it, but that could be attractive to moderates in both the Democratic and Republican parties.
They could look at reducing the amount yet again. It was as high as $24 billion, went down to $18 billion, so you could look at another reduction in that funding. There is always a lot of room in negotiation on this, but I think that it is one of those issues that we will be following throughout the summer.
JACKIE JUDD: And another issue that dogged Congress before breaking for the July 4th recess was of course Cobra, the support for unemployed workers when they try to get this health insurance as a bridge between jobs - is that dead?
MARY AGNES CAREY: It doesn’t look so good right now. With Congress, anything can happen, and of course the proponents of additional Cobra funding include a couple of Democratic Senators, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Sherrod Brown of Ohio are still pushing for an additional six months of Cobra assistance if you lost your job after June 1st.
But if you look at how much concern and debate there is around the Medicaid funding, which is getting a lot of push again from Democratic and Republican governors, and that hasn’t been resolved, I don’t think prospects look too good for Cobra.
JACKIE JUDD: Okay. The Obama administration, the Democratic leadership, has been very intent of late to taut the so called deliverables in the health care reform law: the launch of the government website, the creation of the high risk pools, etc. Do these kinds of things change the narrative of the health care debate at all?
MARY AGNES CAREY: I think it can go, can tip things in Democrats’ favor. For example, when the bill was signed into law in March, it was very much an unknown. Some would still argue that it is still an unknown. But the Republicans’ message has been steady and strong: repeal and replace, this is a bad bill for you, we will raise your taxes, it will hurt Medicare and so on.
There wasn’t a lot of counter pressure, if you will, that the President and Democrats’ proponents for the bill could put forth. Now, as you cite, they can. Covering children up to age 26, it may not start as soon as some people would like. That is certainly one. The new website, the high risk pools, they are now getting out there. They have been in the House, for example, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Democrats get out there and talk about the health bill, talk about what Democrats are doing on this issue as well as the economy and jobs to make the case.
So as we continue to look at implementation of the health law, I think that Democrats will be focused on these points. Now, whether or not it will be enough for voters this fall is unclear, but it absolutely changes the narrative.
JACKIE JUDD: Okay, thank you so much, Mary Agnes Carey of Kaiser Health News. Thank you for watching. I’m Jackie Judd and this has been Health on the Hill.