Stateline Story

Governors to Meet in Nation's Capital on Medicaid Strategy

Christine LaPaille, a spokeswoman for the National Governors Association, declined to specify what would be discussed at the Jan. 19 meeting, but said "this is the beginning of what we think will be a long conversation about Medicaid."

"(Medicaid is) important to every governor regardless of party because it is such a ticking time bomb. ... There's been some talk of block grants, which concerns the governors because caseloads and health care costs continue to rise almost uncontrollably, and it's a budget buster for almost every state," said Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D), who chairs the NGA and will attend the meeting.

Hall said the meeting is part of an effort by the governors to work with the leadership of Congress and the White House to come up with a Medicaid solution "that everyone can live with."

Governors fear the Bush administration in its fiscal 2006 budget proposal might try to reduce the federal deficit by scaling back federal spending on Medicaid or shifting more of the program's costs to the states.

State spending on the state-federal health care program for 52 million poor and disabled is growing at a rate of 12 percent a year and in some states is consuming more of the budget than elementary and secondary education.

LaPaille said the governors want to have as many face-to-face meetings on the topic as possible, "not just to complain about cuts in the budget, but to be able to really put something on the table."

Besides Warner, those to attend the meeting are Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), vice-chairman of NGA, and members of NGA's executive committee: Democratic Govs. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, Tom Vilsack of Iowa, Jim Doyle of Wisconsin and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania (by phone) and GOP Govs. Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Kenny Guinn of Nevada and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts (either in person or by phone).

The governors sent a letter to Congress and the Bush administration Dec. 23 expressing concerns about potential changes to Medicaid. The letter, which affirms the governors' commitment to controlling rising Medicaid costs, says that the governors do not want Medicaid reform to be part of the federal budget process, especially if it will shift additional costs to the states.

"Maintaining the status quo is not acceptable. However, it is equally unacceptable in any deficit-reduction strategy to simply shift federal costs to the states, as Medicaid continues to impose severe strains on state budgets," the letter said.

The governors concerns were echoed in a Jan. 13 letter released by the National Conference of State Legislatures, which represents state legislators across the country.

NCSL President and Maryland Delegate John Hurson (D) asked members of Congress' budget committees "to be mindful of the effects that federal budget decisions have on state budgets and to avoid exporting the federal deficit to the states through unfunded mandates and other cost shifts." The letter, also signed by NCSL President-elect Steve Rauschenberger (R), an Illinois state senator, specifically urged Congress to maintain the federal government's fiscal commitment to the Medicaid program and its beneficiaries.