Facing state pressure, Sebelius denounces 'government takeover' claim

Fighting back against claims of “nationalized healthcare,” Sebelius contends: “The truth is that states aren't just participating in implementation of the law; they're leading it.”

Thirty-three of the nation’s governors have asked Sebelius to drop a requirement for states to maintain their Medicaid eligibility at risk of losing their federal match for the program. Last week, Sebelius tried to dampen calls for waivers as she offered alternative measures states could take to lessen their Medicaid burden while maintaining enrollment.

Sebelius said Thursday morning that the reform law, by 2014, will offer more affordable Medicaid benefits. Also, she said the federal government will pick up the tab for 96 percent of the expansion.

Conservative Republicans took a shot at the claim Thursday morning, saying that the federal Medicaid match for new enrollees drops to 90 percent by 2020. Further, “if currently eligible populations come ‘out of the woodwork’ as a result of the law's individual mandate, state Medicaid spending will skyrocket,” a GOP aide blasted Thursday morning in response to the Sebelius op-ed.

This week, almost half of the nation’s Republican governors demanded greater flexibility to implement and tailor the state-run exchanges. Sebelius wrote that the reform law allow states to choose what benefit plans must offer, and states may offer a wide variety of plans in the exchanges, including health savings accounts.

Republicans denounced the claims, writing that the law empowers the secretary to define essential health benefit plans for state-run exchanges and that it contains new restrictions that would “prevent many current HSA plans from being offered.”

Further, Republicans criticized Sebelius for ignoring Medicaid waiver requests in her op-ed.

“It’s all well and good for the Secretary to talk about giving the states the resources they need to implement the law – but at a time when numerous states face record fiscal pressures, governors need more assistance than bland bromides as they attempt to reform their broken Medicaid programs,” the aide wrote.

Sebelius said she wants to work with governors to improve and implement the reform law, but she reprimanded those who have accused the federal government of overreaching.

“What we cannot do,” Sebelius wrote, “is allow this progress to be blocked or reversed by overheated rhetoric about a ‘government takeover of health care’- a claim that has now been so thoroughly debunked that it was named PolitiFact's 2010 ‘lie of the year.’”