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Sandoval unmoved on health bill after meeting with White House officials; Price advises governors to disregard CBO

Michelle Rindels
Michelle Rindels
GovernmentHealth CareYucca Mountain

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said a closed-door breakfast meeting on Saturday between Trump Administration officials and a large number of governors hasn’t changed his position on the Senate health bill — that it’s a cause for concern.

The Republican governor, whose opinions on health care policy have a major influence on swing voting Republican Sen. Dean Heller, said he plans to make a decision on his final stance next week and hopes to talk with Heller on Sunday or Monday. But he said he’s trying to reconcile conflicting analyses — including the Congressional Budget Office’s projection that the immediately preceding bill would have left 22 million more people uninsured, and the administration’s contention that nobody would lose access to care.

“What’s difficult is there’s a lot of dispute about the veracity of those numbers,” Sandoval told reporters in an interview at the National Governors Association meeting in Rhode Island. “As a governor, it’s incumbent on me to sort that out.”

Sandoval said the Trump Administration hasn’t offered him benefits unrelated to health care — such as concessions on the Yucca Mountain relicensing process that Nevada is fighting and the administration is pushing — in exchange for support of the health bill. But he said he didn’t support such a trade.

"Those are two separate issues that I won't conflate under any circumstances," he said.

Democratic governors were more blunt about the discussion, which featured Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma. Connecticut Gov. Dan Molloy, who chairs the Democratic Governors Association, said the administrators kept touting “innovation” as the solution to health care problems.

But he said they were unable to explain how innovation would compensate for reduced funding. The mood grew tense, he said, mostly out of a “frustration with being lied to.”

“They’re going to shift a massive amount of responsibility to the states without the support necessary to do that,” he said, adding that it would be the states that have to do the dirty work of paring down their Medicaid rolls.

Virginia’s Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Price told the governors to disregard the CBO’s forthcoming analysis because it would be wrong. While the office’s numbers are a source of dispute among partisans, recently concluded the agency was closer than four other major forecasters in predicting the impact of the Affordable Care Act up to 2014. The CBO overestimated exchange enrollment and underestimated Medicaid enrollment but as a result, was close on the impact of the overall uninsured rate.

McAuliffe said he’s not convinced by supporters of the health bill.

“The numbers didn't add up,” he said. “What we've seen today doesn't alleviate any of the fears of the governors, that this is going to be drastic cuts to our budgets.”

Arkansas’ Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is not yet sold on the bill, characterized the meeting as an educational session and indicated governors are afraid of the unknown. He said the conflicting arguments over the bill’s impact come because it’s unclear how consumers will react to having a choice about whether to purchase insurance.

“The question for the states is how do we bridge the gap, and how can we make a system that responds effectively to the choice we’re going to be giving them,” he said.


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