House Lawmakers Look to Freeze Medicaid Expansion by 2018

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By Alex Ruoff

A trio of influential House Republicans is pushing to freeze the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion funding by 2018, two years earlier than Republican leaders previously proposed.

The change could win over a key voting bloc of conservatives in the House but is opposed by moderates, who warned March 9 that senators from the 31 states that expanded their health insurance programs for the poor are likely to oppose it, too.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) told reporters March 9 he plans to introduce an amendment to the House Republicans’ ACA repeal bill that would close the window for states to earn a greater share of federal dollars for expanding their Medicaid programs at the end of 2017.

Barton and other lawmakers first offered, then withdrew the amendment during a markup of the repeal bill by the House Energy and Commerce Committee March 9 at the behest of the panel’s chairman, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.).

“I promised the chairman I would be supportive of the bill at committee and he didn’t have time to get it scored,” Barton said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said changes will need to be made in the Affordable Care Act repeal emerging from two House committees, but he expected those changes to be small.

At his weekly televised briefing with reporters March 9, Ryan said he expected some changes to be made in response to a budget impact score from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which isn’t expected until early in the March 13 week.

“When we get our score, I’m sure we’ll probably have to make some tweaks and adjustments. That happens every time we do reconciliation,” Ryan said, referring to the fast-track budget process Republicans are using to make the bill filibuster-proof in the Senate.

Ryan said the bill will also go through two more committees before a vote on the House floor, the House Budget Committee and the House Rules Committee.

“The bill will be out there for three weeks, to be looked at,” he said. The Energy and Commerce Committee as well as the Ways and Means Committee marked up the bill March 8 and March 9.

The change to freeze expansion funding by 2018 could save the government more than $100 billion over six years, Barton said. However, that’s money that would’ve gone into state Medicaid programs to give poor people insurance. Also, tax credits to help people purchase insurance don’t start until 2020 under Republicans’ repeal bill, meaning poor Americans who fall off of Medicaid due to the freeze would get no assistance from the federal government for as long as two years.

Compromising Compromise

Giving states three years to continue growing their Medicaid rolls was a compromise between lawmakers from states that chose to take the added federal dollars and those that rejected the money, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, told reporters March 9.

“We’re at the cusp of doing major entitlement reform, the likes of which hasn’t happened since Medicaid was first created; you can’t get there without solving the problem between expansion and nonexpansion states,” Burgess said.

Barton, the vice chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who served on President Donald Trump’s transition team, told reporters they plan to offer the amendment along with one to establish work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries at a Rules Committee hearing that must take place before the full House considers the health-care measure. They’re joined by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) in originally introducing the amendments.

This change is supported by the Republican Study Committee, the largest voting bloc among House conservatives with more than 150 members who opposed a previous version of the ACA repeal bill. Members of the House Freedom Caucus were similarly supportive of the change.

However, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), chairman of the moderate House caucus the Tuesday Group, told Bloomberg BNA March 9 that freezing Medicaid funds earlier will prove unpopular among lawmakers like him, who represent expansion states. He said the change could garner support from hardliners in the House, but would hurt the legislation’s chances in the Senate.

“It’s going to be a big problem,” Dent said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kendra Casey Plank at kcasey@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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