Red-state governors discuss expansion of Medicaid with Obama

President Obama appears more willing to compromise on the path toward Medicaid expansion in several red states, a pair of GOP governors said after a White House meeting on Tuesday.

Govs. Pat McCrory (R-N.C.) and Gary Herbert (R-Utah) told reporters they believe the president would sign off on their states’ alternative expansion plans for the low-income insurance program.

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Herbert, vice chair of the National Governor’s Association, said Obama pledged to revisit the issue, while McCrory said he expected “immediate dialogue" with Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

McCrory, who has been hesitant to expand Medicaid for fear of federal overreach, said waivers could make it easier for states to establish their work requirements or co-payments for services.

"We debated all sides of that issue," McCrory said, according to a pool report.

With a green light from HHS, states could receive a windfall of federal dollars even if they veer from the government’s blueprint for Medicaid expansion.

The Obama administration has called Medicaid expansion a crucial step toward reducing the uninsured rate under ObamaCare, after Supreme Court decision made the expansion optional for states.

Since the court's decision, just over half of states have opted to open up eligibility for the program in exchange for millions in new federal funding. States will take on an increasing share of the costs as the years pass, however, which has stoked skepticism among conservative governors.

Several states, such as Arkansas, have tweaked the rules for the Medicaid expansion with a waiver from HHS.

Colorado’s Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who serves as NGA president, also said Tuesday that the waiver process should be streamlined.

“Lets make it easier to get those waivers done, and in many cases, make them permanent,” Hickenlooper said during a "State of the States" address, calling for “flexible federalism.”

The meeting comes during a major momentum shift for Medicaid expansion, largely driven by hospital leaders in expansion-less states that are becoming increasingly desperate for the extra cash.

Last month, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) took a major step toward making his state the first in the deep South to approve the expansion. 

Shortly after, Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) shocked his staff when he said was also mulling an expansion.

Other states currently in discussions with HHS include Alaska, Indiana, Montana, Utah and Wyoming, all of which face some conservative opposition.