Vice President Mike Pence grabbed the elephant in the room by the tusks Friday when he addressed Republican and Democratic governors, owning his decision as Indiana’s chief executive to expand Medicaid coverage under the 2010 health law.
Pence used his 2015 decision to accept federal funds to expand the program under Barack Obama’s health law as an example of how the Senate Republican leadership-crafted health bill would give governors greater control to shape their states’ health care regimes. The VP, as governor, used the Affordable Care Act-provided funds to expand Medicaid via a program unique to the Hoosier State.
Former Democratic Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe joked during a Wednesday interview that the vice president should “change his position, probably” when asked how Pence might go about selling the Senate bill to the country’s governors.
“It’s hard to take something away from somebody once they’ve got it,” Beebe said. “The fact that he took [the federal funds] makes it doubly hard to argue about taking it away. … It’s just, politically, a nonstarter for a lot of people.”
But Pence, a longtime Washington veteran who had risen to the House GOP leadership team before running for governor, flashed his political prowess when he pitched some aspects of the Senate plan as designed to allow state leaders to do similar things with their respective health systems.
Pence’s remarks, much of which were a sales pitch for a Senate bill that could get a floor vote as soon as next week. He told the state executives it would, if signed into law, give them the “freedom to redesign your health insurance markets.”
“This is your chance” he said of Republican lawmakers, adding this message to the governors: “We can put you back in the driver’s seat to put you back in control.”
At one point Pence told his former cohorts he wanted to “speak to you as a former governor.” He noted his Medicaid-expansion decision, and said he feels the frustration among some in the room that it has been “impossible for states to act on your own ideas.”