Pence pushes GOP health care bill to nation's governors in RI

Vice President Mike Pence addresses a National Governors Association session titled "Collaborating to Create Tomorrow's Global Economy" at the second day of the NGA meeting Friday, July 14, 2017, in Providence, R.I. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Vice President Mike Pence told governors of more than two dozen states gathered in Providence on Friday that President Donald Trump believes the revised health care bill before the U.S. Senate is the "right bill at the right time to begin the end of Obamacare."

"The president said he wanted a health care system that in his words is far less expensive and far better," the Republican vice president said at a gathering of the National Governors Association, ahead of an address by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. "We believe the Senate health care bill begins to make the president's vision a reality."

Pence urged governors to support it.

But several governors at the meeting — both Democrat and Republican — expressed concern or opposition about the bill.

Several Democratic governors gathered earlier Friday to publicly criticize the revised health care bill, which was released Thursday. They spoke about how unwinding the Medicaid expansion created by the Affordable Care Act would hurt their states.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, said Republicans in Congress are "still trying to put lipstick on a pig, but guess what? It's still a pig."

Democratic Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo said she plans to voice strong opposition to Pence when she meets with him privately.

"It's on everyone's minds," Raimondo said. "It's what's in every private conversation. There's a high degree of anxiety. Even Republican governors will say that they're worried, especially the ones that have taken the Medicaid expansion."

Nevada expanded its Medicaid program. Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval said he's already told Pence he's concerned about protecting people newly eligible for Medicaid. He plans to reiterate those concerns to Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

"And I'm sure that they're going to come back to me and explain why they feel like those individuals that are receiving Medicaid now, the newly eligibles, won't be harmed," he said. "It's my obligation to hear them out, which is what I will do."

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to keep in place Medicaid cuts GOP governors and Senate moderates have objected to. No Democrats are supporting the plan.

The latest changes are geared toward increasing access to bare-bones private insurance. There's also an additional $45 billion to help states confronting the opioid epidemic. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, of North Carolina, called that funding a "fig leaf." Many of the "flimsy" policies that will be allowed under the legislation wouldn't cover substance abuse treatment, he said.

"What it is going to cost us to get out of this opioid crisis is significant, and health care coverage is important to that process," Cooper said. "This needs to be a bipartisan effort, just like we're working on the opioid fight in a bipartisan effort."

Pence introduced Trudeau, saying the Trump administration is looking forward to renegotiating NAFTA in a way that will equally benefit the U.S. and Canada.

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