House votes to condemn Trump Medicaid block grant policy

The House on Tuesday passed a resolution officially condemning the Trump administration’s new Medicaid block grant plan.

The non-binding resolution won’t have much practical effect. It passed on a mostly party line vote of 224-189 and will almost certainly see no time in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) was the only Democrat to break with his party. 

The controversial Medicaid plan will let states apply for a waiver to scale back spending by converting part of their Medicaid funding into a block grant.

Democrats argue the administration doesn’t have the authority to approve such drastic changes, and Medicaid advocates say the changes would hurt low-income people and invite states to cut costs and reduce coverage. 

Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas), one of the sponsors of the resolution, said the resolution is meant to “shine a light” on the administration’s attempts to gut the Affordable Care Act. 

“They’ve been talking about these block grants in Texas for a while … everybody knows these are harmful,” Veasey said. 

The vote represents the latest effort from Democrats attempting to put Republicans in a bind on health care. 

Democrats took control of the House in 2018 after tying Republicans to the repeated attempts to repeal ObamaCare and arguing the GOP wants take away coverage from people with pre-existing conditions. They want to continue to position themselves as the party of health care ahead of the 2020 election. 

“Congressional Republicans know that block granting Medicaid is a seismic change in the program that requires a change in the law. I would hope they would be concerned by this illegal action and would join us in sending a bipartisan message of disapproval to the Administration,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) said prior to the vote.

The new program — branded the Healthy American Opportunity (HAO) — will allow states to ask permission to end their traditional, open-ended Medicaid program. It will put hard caps on how much money states and the federal government will spend on the poor and disabled.  

The Trump administration and congressional Republicans argue the program gives states unprecedented flexibility with their Medicaid funding. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma has made state flexibility a priority during her tenure running the agency.

“Let me be clear: Fearmongering notwithstanding, HAO does not cut Medicaid funding,” Verma wrote in a Washington Post op-ed Thursday. 

Guidance on the proposal was released last week, and Republicans knocked Democrats for holding a vote so quickly without bothering to have a hearing. They also argued that states are not required to seek a block grant if they don’t want to.

“This is not … some evil empire approach where the Trump administration is forcing something on states. That’s factually not the case,” said Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.), the Energy and Commerce Committee’s top Republican. 

Walden also criticized the Democrats for voting on a non-binding resolution.

“This is the partisan equivalent of a press release,” he said. “So when we’re done with that, then what happens? Nothing. This is a partisan, political, pathetic debate that serves no purpose.” 

Tags Greg Walden Kurt Schrader Marc Veasey

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