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Governors’ Group Highlights Health Care In 2013 Outlook

As governors gear up to deliver their state-of-the-state addresses later this month, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the National Governors Association spoke Wednesday about the broader policy challenges facing all states in 2013 — and sure enough, health care was among the major issues both mentioned.

The “State of the States” addresses by Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, who is chair of the NGA, and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, who is vice-chair, was a first for the group.

Fallin, who recently rejected setting up a state-based health exchange and expanding Medicaid in Oklahoma, said that all states hope to see some flexibility from the federal government as they implement the health care law.

“We would … like to see the administration embrace innovation at the state level by speeding up the consideration of waivers” for Medicaid, the joint state-federal program for low-income people, she said.

As an example, Fallin pointed to her state’s Insure Oklahoma plan, which through a Medicaid waiver, gives employers premium subsidies to help buy insurance for low-income workers. That waiver program expires at the end of the year.

“Unfortunately we received word not too long ago that Insure Oklahoma and its waiver itself could be in jeopardy,” putting the program’s future in question, she said.

Markell told the audience that Delaware had opted to set up a health insurance exchange, or marketplace for small businesses and individuals, in partnership with the federal government.  But, he added, other states may not follow suit because they have different health care needs.

He said Delaware policymakers did not see the expansion of Medicaid as a political issue. “For us, this was not a Democratic issue, this was not a Republican issue— this was an issue of math,” said Markell. “It just worked out, and it turns out that we believe it’s a good investment for us to make sure that more people were covered through this expansion, while at the same time federal reimbursement for Medicaid actually increases for some of the people we were already serving.”

In addition to the remarks about health care policy, the NGA also announced a new initiative to tackle prescription drug abuse in seven states: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Kentucky, New Mexico, Oregon and Virginia. The initiative will be led by Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama and Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado.