U.S. governors want Congress to keep funding health benefits for poor

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By Susan Cornwell | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON U.S. Republican governors on Thursday
urged Washington lawmakers to keep funding health benefits for
millions of low-income Americans, even as Congress is working to
repeal Obamacare, President Barack Obama’s landmark health
insurance law.

Ohio Governor John Kasich, one of 10 governors who met
Republican lawmakers in Washington, suggested that those who
gained Medicaid coverage under an Obamacare-financed expansion
could instead be given either premium subsidies or tax credits
for buying private health insurance.

Medicaid is the U.S. government health insurance program for
the poor. An expansion of Medicaid with federal funding was one
of the larger provisions of Obamacare when Congress passed the
law in 2010. States were allowed to choose whether to adopt the
Medicaid expansion, and 31 states including Ohio did so.

But if that expansion is cut and not replaced as part of the
repeal of Obamacare that congressional Republicans are working
on now, at least 10 million low-income people could lose their
health insurance.

“There are some fundamental things that we can do that can
settle people down, so they are not worried they are going to
lose their coverage, but at the same time bring significant
changes to the Obamacare package,” Kasich, a former Republican
presidential candidate, told reporters after the meeting with
other Republican governors and lawmakers hosted by the Senate
finance committee.

Ending Obamcare was a campaign promise of Republicans
including President-elect Donald Trump.

But Thursday’s conversation underlined anxiety about the
Obamacare repeal process and the fears that people will lose
their health insurance before a replacement is found.

“It ain’t gonna happen. Nobody’s going to lose coverage,”
Republican Senator John Cornyn said as he left the meeting,
adding that he thought Kasich had offered some “creative” ideas
for dealing with Medicaid costs.

Congress voted last week to start dismantling Obamacare,
despite concerns about not having a replacement ready. More than
20 million previously uninsured Americans gained coverage
through Obamacare. About half the coverage was extended by
expanding Medicaid and the other half through online exchanges
where consumers can receive income-based subsidies.

Republicans say a good replacement would give states more
control of healthcare programs and provide more stability in
health insurance premiums.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson was optimistic funds for
the expanded Medicaid program will keep flowing from Washington.

“I’ve been in Washington before. When you talk about cuts,
you’re talking about reducing the growth level of spending,”
Hutchinson said.

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