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Kasich on Health Care Bill: ‘Not Acceptable’

Ohio governor says he’s worried about bill’s effects on mentally and chronically ill, and working poor

Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich, right, and Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper discuss the Senate health care reform bill at the National Press Club on Tuesday. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich, right, and Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper discuss the Senate health care reform bill at the National Press Club on Tuesday. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Ohio Gov. John Kasich didn’t want to talk about how Ohio Sen. Rob Portman might vote on the Republican health care bill.

“I’ve told him how important I think all this is,” Kasich cut off a reporter in mid-question when asked at a National Press Club event Tuesday about his discussions with Portman on the bill. “I don’t cast his vote. … We’ll see what happens when the card goes in the box — or however they vote in the Senate.”

But Kasich did want to talk about the steep cuts to Medicaid contained in the bill Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a pursed-lipped cadre of Republican colleagues made public last week, and how the cuts would decimate poor and sick Ohioans.

Kasich said the funding provided for Medicaid in the House health care overhaul bill passed in May was “really not adequate,” but that his state could “struggle through” with some flexibility.

But he doesn’t feel that way about the Senate bill.

“The amount of funding that they’re putting into Medicaid… is even less than what the House had,” Kasich said, “and what the House had was really not adequate.” 

Portman told reporters that he still had “serious concerns on the Medicaid and opioid issues,” and that his office was still poring over the Congressional Budget Office’s score of the bill released Monday.

Analysts have speculated that Portman could try to cut a deal with GOP Senate brass for additional funds to combat the opioid crisis in exchange for Medicaid cuts, finagling on the side that would mirror the way Republican lawmakers milked concessions from their Democratic counterparts in the 2010 drafting of the Affordable Care Act.

“We need to see what the whole package is,” Portman said when asked whether additional opioid funding is enough to win his support. Portman’s and Kasich’s comments came before Senate GOP leadership decided against trying to get a vote on the bill before they leave for their Fourth of July recess at the end of the week.

On the 2016 presidential campaign trail, Kasich, widely seen as the moderate voice among Republican candidates, called for a partial repeal and replacement of the ACA but spoke favorably of many of its provisions, including the expansion of Medicaid to more low-income Americans, the insurance exchanges system, and — at least in principle — the notion that even young, healthy Americans should buy health insurance.

Since losing the GOP nomination to Donald Trump, Kasich has remained in the spotlight by publicly grilling his party’s lawmakers for their moves on a host of issues, most notably their attempts to scrap together a national health care plan.

Kasich said in March that the nation’s “soul” was on the line if House Republicans pushed through Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s American Healthcare Act that, according to a Congressional Budget Office assessment, would result in the loss of insurance for millions of Americans.

Kasich redoubled his criticism for the Senate on Tuesday, saying the bill as it is now “would leave a lot of people in a really difficult situation.”

The term-limited governor, who leaves office at the end of next year, said his concern lies with people beyond Ohio’s state line, the “millions and millions of Americans” — especially the mentally and chronically ill and the working poor — who would lose out with Medicaid cuts.

[Paul Ryan Defends CBO Role as Referee]

Kasich has come under fire from conservative lawmakers and pundits for speaking too harshly of his GOP colleagues, but the governor pushed back against that criticism.

“My job is to be intellectually honest through this process, and that’s what I intend to do,” Kasich said.

“I’m a conservative. I’ve balanced more budgets than any of these people who are criticizing me. … I’m actually in the fray, I’m with Teddy Roosevelt, I’m in the arena, I’m not sitting on the outside writing some white paper somewhere.”

Kasich, answering questions at the podium alongside Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, used the platform to call out D.C.’s toxic partisanship.

[Warren: ‘The Next Step is Single-Payer’]

“In the old days, we could kid each other and josh each other and have a good floor debate and then go down and play basketball,” said Kasich, who served nine terms in the House. “Now you just look at somebody the wrong way and you become the enemy. This town is dysfunctional.”

Kasich said the way forward for a health care update would be for Democrats and Republicans to work together to improve the bill, even if that meant they had to start from scratch.

He did not seem to favor the closed-door approach McConnell used to generate the Senate’s first iteration of the legislation.

“This is not good enough to shove this in a closet somewhere because there are big challenges with this bill,” Kasich said.

But he added that the onus also falls on Senate Democrats to be receptive to overtures across the aisle, even calling on them to hold a news conference to say they’re willing to sit down and “engage with Republicans” to figure out a sustainable solution.

“These Democrat senators should stand, and they should challenge the Republicans to negotiate with them,” Kasich said. “If the Democrats don’t want to participate that way, shame on them, and they’re playing party politics over what’s good for our nation.”

Senate Democrats say they have repeatedly made efforts to negotiate with Republicans on improving the health care system, but only if Republicans drop the rhetoric that they are repealing the Affordable Care Act.

“Take repeal off the table,” Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a March interview on CNN. “Let [Trump] and Speaker Ryan, Mitch McConnell say, ‘We’re not repealing,’ and we’ll work with them on improving Obamacare.”

“They tried to repeal it, they failed. If they keep trying to repeal it, we won’t be able to do anything. So of course we’ll come to them.”

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