- By Jessica Wehrman Washington Bureau
The national conversation may be centered on guns and immigration, but on Friday, a bipartisan group of governors that includes Ohio Gov. John Kasich tried to focus the nation’s attention, once again, on health care.
The group, which also includes Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado and independent Bill Walker of Alaska, in D.C. for a meeting of the National Governors Association, released a six–page blueprint for improving the nation’s health care a document that a Kasich aide described as the best of the ideas that Democrats and Republicans have agreed upon.
They argue that while much of the nation has argued about coverage, they’ve avoided a very crucial conversation about cost. Increased flexibility and reforms that drive the cost down, they say, will have to be implemented in order to avoid either a single-payer system or a two-tiered system in which the wealthy get great benefits and the poor scrape by.
“We cannot afford to lose sight of” the urgency around health care,” said Hickenlooper.
Added Kasich, “We’re all looking for ways to do what: Continue to provide great health care but at lower prices.”
The plan released includes guiding principles that have often been repeated during the health care debate: provide flexibility, encourage innovation, improve the regulatory environment, for example, but includes no legislative language, nor specificity on costs. Instead, it seems to be a “reboot” of a prior conversation, an attempt to steer the nation’s attention back to health care.
Among the steps the governors call for is to restore the cost sharing reduction payments that are given to insurers in order to keep premiums low; encourage consumers to sign up for coverage; and ensuring that Americans contribute “to their health care consistent with their financial capacity.”
“Please get going,” Kasich said at one point, appearing to address lawmakers whose efforts to reform health care have stalled. “Because if you don’t, a lot of your people are going to get the shaft and not the kind of health care that they ought to have.”
One thing the governors appeared to endorse was the idea of being able to tailor Medicaid coverage to their states. Ohio has an aging population, while Colorado’s is younger. Alaska, whose governor Bill Walker also attended the press conference, has tribal issues that might necessitate different requirements than Ohio’s population, for example.
For his part, Kasich appeared to put an additional onus on businesses, saying they’ll need to help drive the debate by convincing insurance companies to give them a better deal for coverage.
“It has to be the businesses in this country who say they’ve had enough, and frankly, maybe they do, but I don’t think enough,” he said, adding that “great quality at a lower price…has to be demanded by the private sector in America.”
Kasich said he supported a requirement that some Medicaid recipients work, acknowledging “a sense out there” that some receive the federal benefits while others work hard and receive less. “Work requirements are fine with me,” he said. “It just has to be thought of in a way that’s going to work and be practical.” And Hickenlooper said he’s not opposed as long as the government considers those who aren’t healthy enough to work or those who are healthy, but must take care of a child or an elderly family member.
Friday morning’s press conference is one of a series of events that Kasich has scheduled for his time in Washington. He’ll also attend an event by the fiscally conservative Concord Coalition later today and attend a reception with fellow governors late Friday afternoon.