By Greg Richter
No matter where they stand on Obamacare, America’s governors agree on one thing about President Barack Obama’s controversial healthcare overhaul: It’s not going away.
“We’re just trying to make the best of a bad situation,” said Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, of Iowa at a meeting of the nation’s governors in Washington, D.C., this weekend.
According to Arkansas congressman Tom Cotton, the reality also is that you will lose your healthcare, lose your doctor, and lose your job.
“We’re trying to make it work as best we can for the people of Iowa,” said Barnstad, who calls the healthcare law “unaffordable and unsustainable,” yet something he has to implement by law.
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 â€” 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 this year’s midterm elections. Some Democrats who supported Obamacare are now finding themselves in tight re-election races, among them Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas.
Democrats bragged at one point they would run “on Obamacare,” but as time passed those words stopped being repeated, and now even liberal commentators admit they’re more likely to be running “from” it as candidates shy away from having the president show up at their campaign events.
Republicans plan to focus on the troubled rollout of HealthCare.gov and its breaches of personal information along with Obama’s broken promise that people who like their health plans and doctors could keep them.
They also are likely to play up the increase in rates and dropped coverage expected just ahead of the November vote and Obama’s unilateral delays of key parts of the law for what they say are political purposes. Republicans also argue the delays, without Congressional input, are against the law.
The conservative group, Americans For Prosperity, has spent more than $20 million on anti-Obamacare television ads in several key states since last August.
Democrats, meanwhile, are likely to focus on the nearly 3.3 million people who have signed up through Feb. 1 for healthcare 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 â€” Florida, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin â€” 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 healthcare law and the tone was much different than in past years.
“Before the election, it felt like a cockfight,” 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 healthcare 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.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican who is among his party’s most vulnerable incumbents in the fall election, said he’s working to expand his state’s Medicaid program, but the process had been cumbersome and difficult. He said it still remained unclear, from a fiscal standpoint, if the healthcare law would be functioning in two years.
“There are a lot more unknowns than there are knowns,” Corbett said.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, said many governors still have concerns about the program, but that outright repeal would be “complicated.”
Republican campaign officials, meanwhile, plan to make the healthcare law the overwhelming focus of the coming midterm elections.
The stakes are high for parties battling over control of the House and Senate, while there are also 36 elections for governor, most of them for governors mansions currently held by Republicans. The coming elections also offer prospective 2016 presidential candidates an opportunity to boost their political standing.
Leading GOP figures in the Senate like Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida have been vocal critics of the healthcare law. Cruz mounted a 21-hour Senate speech against Obama’s health law and was tied to the partial government shutdown while Rubio was an early proponent of defunding the health law although he distanced himself from the shutdown.
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, a first-term Democrat up for re-election in November, said her state would soon expand its Medicaid program to cover 50,000 uninsured residents.
“Overall, I’m very disappointed with the early implementation and rollout,” she said. “But I think we are making progress.”