Weekly Wrap: Health Care Reform Takes Center Stage

By: - July 24, 2009 12:00 am

President Obama wasn’t the only one talking about revamping the U.S. health-care system this week. Prior to the president’s July 22 nationally televised address , health care reform dominated the National Governors’ Association summer meeting in Biloxi, Miss., where governors raised concerns that states would have to foot the bill, as outlined in a letter to Capitol Hill. The new NGA chair , Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas (R), has chosen health care as his year-long initiative .

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), who did not attend the NGA meeting in neighboring Gulfport, made appearances on Fox and CNN , criticizing current health care proposals moving through Congress that include a significant expansion in Medicaid, the state-federal program that currently provides health insurance for 60 million poor Americans.

During NGA’s summer meeting, Cindy Mann, director of the Center on Medicaid and State Operations at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, acknowledged that the relationship between states and her shop have been a “bit rocky” and pledged to work with states “rather than get in your way.” Mann said the Obama administration is eager for states to use newly created “express lanes” that enroll uninsured children to a state’s subsidized health care plan at the same time the children are signed up for food stamps, school lunch plans or certain other benefits.

Health care and budget issues also were themes at the National Conference of State Legislatures’ annual summit in Philadelphia July 20-24:

During the NCSL conference, state legislators called on Congress and the Obama Administration to fully fund the new Medicaid beneficiaries and services as outlined in federal health care reform proposals. “We just can’t enroll more people on Medicaid when we can’t pay for the ones we currently have,” North Carolina House Speaker Joe Hackney and NCSL president said in a statement .

Meanwhile, Connecticut pushed ahead on health care , enacting a plan to cover uninsured residents. The Democrat-controlled legislature overrode the veto of Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, whose approval rating has dropped to its lowest level since becoming governor.

Connecticut joins only Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine with revamped health care systems. Elsewhere, despite the recession, at least 13 states have acted to insure more children this year.

Update on state budget showdowns: More than three weeks into the fiscal year, neither Connecticut nor Pennsylvania has new budgets. North Carolina has a tentative deal that relies on hikes in sales, personal income and cigarette taxes. California lawmakers were expected to vote Thursday night (July 23) on a new budget that relies on deep cuts and raiding local government coffers, but no new taxes, to help erase its $26 billion shortfall. Cities in California are preparing a lawsuit if the plan is approved. Arizona approved a stop-gap budget, but lawmakers remain in special session to make fixes. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer wants to let voters decide if they want to temporarily hike the state sales tax, her plan for balancing the ledgers.

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