CNN Interview: Gov. Hutchinson says Republicans should work with Democrats to replace Obamacare

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 440 views 

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday (July 18) told CNN host Wolf Blitzer now that efforts to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act are on life support, Republican lawmakers should “let the dust settle” and then sit down with Democrats to come up with new reform plan to provide healthcare to the American people.

“Some wise heads need to get together and figure out the direction where Democrats and Republicans agree upon … What we have now is not workable over the long-term and it is costing too much and we need to have more accessibility,” Hutchinson said, speaking to a national CNN audience. “So, I hope that Democrats will come to the table. I hope they will participate in the next stage of the solution because we’ve got to change it and we’ve got to have that reform, and Democrats need to be at the table to accomplish that.”

Hutchinson’s comments, broadcast nationally at noon (CST) on Tuesday, came one day after Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan to repeal and replace Obamacare fell apart after key defections from the Republican Party. McConnell, from Kentucky, now says he will try to push through “repeal now, replace later” legislation that also seems to have tepid support.

Over the past month, Hutchinson has reiterated his lukewarm support for the draft bill, drafted primarily by McConnell over the past two months. A week ago, speaking to the Little Rock Rotary Club at the Clinton Presidential Library, Hutchinson said he would continue to have conversations Arkansas’ senators Tom Cotton and John Boozman on the best way forward.

“As I have indicated, the current Senate bill that is in draft form is really not going to work over the long term and solve all the problems that we need to have solved, so I think they are looking at a better way and we are trying to contribute to that,” Hutchinson told reporters at a meeting of the Little Rock Rotary Club.

When asked about the legislation by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would repeal the Obama administration’s healthcare law and replace it at a later date, Hutchinson said he would also oppose such legislation.

“I am for repeal, replace and reform, but I am not for repealing it and then we will figure out what to do down the road. That is very unstabling to our medical community and our citizens that rely on some continuity of care,” he said.

In his interview with Blitzer, Hutchinson also again panned McConnell’s original healthcare bill, saying it would hurt states like Arkansas.

“Well, it was based upon costs to the states. We can do reform and we can have cost-saving measures that will help the federal [and] state government, but what the last plan was too heavy of a shift of costs to states that we could not absorb without having significant changes and cutbacks,” Hutchinson said.

The popular Arkansas governor and head of the state’s Republican Party said there were some parts of the last version of the Senate healthcare bill that were palatable, but the cost containment issue was the deal-breaker for him. Not mentioning Arkansas Works by name, Hutchinson said the state’s healthcare marketplace has put in reform measures that control Medicaid costs, provide affordable accessibility and add work-related conditions that don’t remove people from dependency on government assistance.

“We will continue with [this] regardless of what happens in Washington, but from a national perspective and from a practical perspective, what we have nationally is not working and I hope they can continue change and to fight for changing the status quo,” Hutchinson said.

In response to a question from Blitzer on why he and other governors at the National Governors Association meeting last week in Providence, R.I., rejected Medicaid funding changes by Vice President Mike Pence that would impact Arkansas and other states, Hutchinson said such ideas needed more study.

“Whenever you look at not just Medicaid funding, but they created a stabilization fund that I think was over $400 billion that was being placed into [the legislation], those are funds that we could access to make sure that we are covering that might not be able to sustain or need more support on the health insurance market or wrap-around services,” he said. “The bottom line is it was a very significant reduction in the growth of Medicaid …, and it was too sharp and it would result in the states having to pick up too much of that burden.”

Last month, Hutchinson made a similar case during a specially called news conference at the State Capitol where he said the U.S. Senate healthcare bill as drafted could lead to a “$500 million hit” to the Arkansas economy and could end the popular Arkansas Works program.

Concerning a question on changes he would like to see in legislation to replace Obamacare, Hutchinson said he would like to see the aged, blind and disabled populations in traditional Medicaid shifted to a per capita cap to ultimately reduce the financial commitment to the states under the Senate bill. He said this category needs to be exempted from the per capita option because it is a high expense category and represents a cost shift to Arkansas.

Secondly, Hutchinson said the Senate bill should extend the block grant option to allow states to include the expansion population. This is not allowed under the draft Senate bill. If the block grant option is extended, he said, states can assume risk, create savings, and assure continued coverage for the working poor.

The Senate should redo tax-credit subsidies to stabilize the individual market and make healthcare coverage affordable for low-income individuals, Hutchinson said. The draft legislation creates “winners” and “losers” in the same way as Obamacare, which increased premiums and cost sharing for the elderly and provided few options for those in lower income brackets, he said.

Still, Hutchinson told Blitzer that if the Affordable Care Act remains in place, Arkansas would have to continually go back to the federal government to get permission to continue to make reforms.

“While the Trump administration leans forward a great deal more, we are still not able to put in place the effective responsibility requirements, and the cost-saving measures to have the flexibility we [need],” Hutchinson said. “Rules are changed in Washington under the law, and we have to live with those. But the system needs to change.”

At the end of the interview with Blitzer, Hutchinson again offered lukewarm support for McConnell’s new proposal to repeal and replace Obamacare at a later date. That stance puts him at odds with Cotton and other GOP lawmakers who have promised for years to replace the omnibus health law known as Obamacare.

Earlier Tuesday, Cotton said he was in support of McConnell’s latest approach to bring back up 2015 legislation that repealed ACA, then set a timeline to replace it within two years.

In a January 2017 interview on Meet the Press, however, Cotton told host Chuck Todd that he was opposed to a “repeal without a replacement” strategy.

“I think it would not be the right path for us to repeal Obamacare without laying a path forward,” Cotton told Todd. “I think when we repeal Obamacare, we need to have the solution in place moving forward.”

Cotton also said in the interview, “I don’t think we can just repeal Obamacare and say we’re going to get the answer two years from now.”

Immediately after Hutchinson’s interview Tuesday, President Donald Trump said he was disappointed that Obamacare was not repealed and put off for a later date. He said Republicans should now let the Affordable Care Act fall under its own weight, forcing Democrats back to the table to make a new deal.

“I think we’re probably in that position where we’ll just let Obamacare fail. We’re not gonna own it. I’m not gonna own it,” Trump told reporters. “We’ll let Obamacare fail and then Democrats are going to come to us.”