Sen. Heller supports seven-year phase-out of Medicaid expansion funds

Sen. Heller supports seven-year phase-out of Medicaid expansion funds
© Greg Nash

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerBipartisan group of lawmakers aim to reform US sugar program Dem donor on MSNBC: 'Hopefully we'll get our sh-- together' The Hill interview — DNC chief: I came here to win elections MORE (R-Nev.), a key GOP senator on healthcare who is up for reelection next year, said Thursday that he supports a seven-year phase-out of funding for ObamaCare’s expansion of Medicaid. 

“I support seven, I support seven,” Heller told reporters on his way into a healthcare working group meeting in the Capitol. “So do a number of us, including [Sen. Rob] Portman [R-Ohio] and others who have been working on this.” 

Heller’s comments indicate that he is willing to end the extra federal funding for Medicaid expansion, as long as it is on a slow enough timetable. His comments, and those of other more centrist GOP senators, could indicate that Republicans can find some compromise on the Medicaid issue, one of their biggest obstacles to passing an ObamaCare repeal bill. 

The proposal from Portman and others is to gradually phase down the federal funding for Medicaid expansion over a seven-year period from 2020 to 2027. 

That is longer than the three-year phase-down proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell expects Paul to return to Senate next week Former Hill staff calls for mandatory harassment training Gaming the odds of any GOP tax bill getting signed into law MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday. But it is possible a compromise could be worked out. 

Heller did not say whether he could support a bill with a faster phase-down. 

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As one of the most electorally vulnerable GOP senators up for reelection next year, Heller is closely watched in the healthcare debate.

Democrats warn that any phase-down of funding, no matter how slow, would eventually result in millions of people currently on the Medicaid expansion losing coverage. 

With reduced federal funding, states would still have the ability to keep the Medicaid expansion, but they would have to pour in more of their own money, which could be a tough stretch for many state budgets. 

Portman, as well as Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Moore CapitoSenators push mandatory sexual harassment training for members, staff Senate GOP: We are unified on controversial tax policy change Senate Dems want B to address opioid epidemic MORE (R-W.Va.), are also backing a seven-year phase-down of the Medicaid expansion funding. 

Separately, Heller on Thursday expressed concern that a cap on Medicaid spending in the bill should grow fast enough to keep up with rising medical costs.  

He said at a hearing that he had been unable to get an answer from fellow lawmakers about what the growth rate on the cap would be. 

“I’m trying to find an answer to this question and I can’t get it out of our meetings,” Heller said. 

“I just want to make sure that medical inflation as it increases over the next 10 years, the funding mechanism we have, isn’t below that,” he later added.