National Journal - HEALTH CARE

Obama Supports Health Law Waiver

By Meghan McCarthy

Monday, February 28, 2011

President Obama today endorsed an effort to allow states to opt out of the federal health overhaul plan in 2014, as long as they offer similar insurance coverage through their own efforts.

Speaking to the National Governors Association, Obama expressed support for legislation proposed in the 111th Congress by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Scott Brown, R-Mass., that would allow states in 2014 to apply for a waiver on implementing central pieces of the federal health overhaul plan.

“I think that’s a reasonable proposal,” Obama said. “It will give you flexibility more quickly while still guaranteeing reform.”

The current law allows states to apply for a waiver in 2017. But many state officials have argued that meeting federal requirements by 2014, when many central pieces of the overhaul law take effect, would force states to abandon their own plans.

To qualify for the waiver, states must meet a high bar. They must prove to the federal government that their own plans offer coverage comparable to the essential health benefits determined by federal government, offer protections against “excessive” out-of-pocket spending, and cover a “comparable number” of residents.

In exchange for the waiver, states could be exempted from major pieces of the health care law, including insurance exchanges and requiring individuals to buy health insurance.

Obama also addressed growing concerns from governors over the impact of Medicaid on state budgets. The president asked governors to form a bipartisan group to work with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to lower Medicaid costs, while also improving the quality of care.

“I don’t think any single party has a monopoly on good ideas,” Obama said.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is slated to examine the Medicaid program on Tuesday, with several governors, including Mississippi Republican Haley Barbour, expected to testify.