Governors: 'Obamacare' is here to stay

By Steve Peoples

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Feb. 23 2014 8:14 p.m. MST

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, left, talks with New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan while they participate in a special session on jobs in America during the National Governor's Association Winter Meeting in Washington, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014.

Cliff Owen, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The explosive politics of health care have divided the nation, but America's governors, Republicans and Democrats alike, suggest that President Barack Obama's health care overhaul is here to stay.

While governors from Connecticut to Louisiana sparred on Sunday over how best to improve the nation's economy, governors of both parties shared a far more pragmatic outlook on the controversial program known as "Obamacare" as millions of their constituents begin to be covered.

"We're just trying to make the best of a bad situation," Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, of Iowa, who calls the health care law "unaffordable and unsustainable," yet something he has to implement by law. "We're trying to make it work as best we can for the people of Iowa."

As governors gathered in Washington this weekend, Democratic governors such as Maryland's Martin O'Malley and Connecticut's Dannel Malloy made pitches to raise the minimum wage, while Republican governors such as Louisiana's Bobby Jindal and Indiana's Mike Pence called for more freedom from federal regulations, particularly those related to the health insurance overhaul. But governors from both parties report that a full repeal of the law would be complicated at best, if not impossible, as states move forward with implementation and begin covering millions of people — both by expanding Medicaid rolls for lower-income resident or through state or federal exchanges that offer federal subsidies to those who qualify.

Republican opposition to the law is the centerpiece of the GOP's political strategy ahead of the midterm elections.

Despite a troubled rollout, nearly 3.3 million people have signed up through Feb. 1 for health care coverage under the law. The White House reported that 1 million people signed up nationwide for private insurance under the law in January alone. It remains unclear that the administration will reach its unofficial goal of 7 million people by the end of March, but it still expects several million enrollees by then.

A recent Associated Press analysis of the sign-ups found that six Republican-led states — Florida, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin — were on pace or better than the states had initially projected.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is among several Republican governors who expanded their state's Medicaid laws under the law.

"The whole dialogue on the Affordable Care Act is about people fighting, causing gridlock and a mess, instead of working on something important like wellness," Snyder said, adding that he still has "a lot of issues" with the overhaul. "But it is the law, so I'm trying to work in that context."

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who leads the Democratic Governors Association, said governors spent about half of their private lunch session on Saturday discussing the health care law and the tone was much different than in past years.

"Before the election, it felt like a cock fight," Shumlin said, describing the debate over the law during the 2012 campaign. "Down there we were talking about ways to we could cooperate."

"There's no doubt in my mind that the Republicans have accepted that as millions of people sign up for it and finally get the health care they have been dreaming of for their families, nobody's going to take that away," he said.

Yet Republican governors here described circumstances that would hardly befit a dream.

Democrats and Republicans alike complained about major problems with the Medicaid eligibility data that they are receiving from federal exchanges. The 36 states in the federal exchange have noted often incomplete data with the Medicaid information they are receiving.

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