Rockefeller: McCaskill budget plan worse than Ryan's for Medicaid

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said Wednesday that a fellow Democrat's plan to tackle federal spending would be even worse for Medicaid than House Republicans' "heartless" proposals for the program.

House Republicans' fiscal 2012 budget would convert federal Medicaid spending into block grants to states, which opponents say would ultimately lead the states to cut benefits or drop people from the program. The proposal is "almost beyond my moral understanding," Rockefeller said at a press conference.

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But he said Medicaid cuts would be more dramatic under Sen. Claire McCaskill's (D-Mo.) proposal to cap federal spending. She and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) have proposed limiting total federal spending to about 20 percent of gross domestic product. Such "global caps" would be "worse than the House budget bill," Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller, the No. 2 Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, vowed to fight both plans. Medicaid is a lifeline for millions of people, he said, and block grants would hit the neediest beneficiaries the hardest.

More than half of the Senate's Democratic members have signed a letter to President Obama opposing Medicaid block grants as well as spending caps.

"Just like a block grant, a total spending cap fails to account for trends like the aging of the population and rising health care costs," the letter states. "It would require such unprecedented and draconian cuts to Medicaid over time that it would inevitably result in s block grant, spending caps or other radical changes to the Medicaid program."

House Republicans, despite voting almost unanimously for the budget resolution, have not made any serious moves to mark up bills that would make the budget's proposed changes to Medicaid or Medicare.

Rockefeller also criticized a GOP bill to repeal a section of the healthcare reform law that bars states from cutting Medicaid eligibility until 2014. The law requires states to keep their existing standards in place because the federal government will foot the bill for people added to the Medicaid rolls through an expansion of the program in 2014. Many governors have said the requirement is too expensive and asked Congress for more flexibility to make cuts in their programs.

Republicans’ Medicaid proposals “are not about flexibility,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said at Wednesday’s press conference. “They are a mirage. They are a backdoor cost-shift.”

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