By Carten Cordell | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
WASHINGTON — If you loved 1990s welfare reform, you’ll love the old-school spin Republican congressman have put on the contemporary Medicaid debate.
Sampling the bipartisan success of The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, the GOP is pushing a Medicaid reform bill featuring the block-grant funding that was the cornerstone of welfare reform.
The State Health Flexibility Act, HR 4160, seeks to award states a lump sum — a block grant — to fund health care however state lawmakers want.
Sponsored by Congressmen Todd Rotika, R-Indiana; Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas; Paul Broun, R-Georgia; and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio; the bill seeks to end the fractious Medicaid debate by giving state governments final spending authority.
Representatives of free-market think tanks The Carleson Center for Public Policy and the National Tax-Limitation Committee hailed the bill Thursday as real-world solution to the divisive health-care issue.
“(Welfare reform) reduced the caseload by basically two-thirds,” said Lew Uhler, president of the National Tax-Limitation Committee. “Getting the people close to you to run these programs is much more intelligent and will be much more efficient.
“We think we can save maybe half the money that is currently going to these programs over the next decade as we begin to implement this.”
The bill comes as a response to the Medicaid-eligibility expansion established in the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
Despite the Supreme Court’s recent ruling to uphold the landmark health-care law, six states have revolted, refusing to broaden eligibility standards set down in the new law.
They hope the State Health Flexibility Act allows the states to maintain Medicaid coverage without the perceived influence of federal standards that don’t address local health issues.
The State Health Flexibility Act embodies the same goals as welfare reform, less federal intrusion and better care with less expense, said Susan Carleson, CEO of the Carleson Center.
“The basic structure of the block grants and why they work was the design — stopping the open-ended federal-matching money and giving the states a finite amount of money,” she said. “I used to joke to my husband that it was sort of like taking away my American Express card and giving me cash.”
But while there are many similarities between Welfare Reform and the State Health Flexibility Act, their chances of becoming law under the current White House are slim.
Michael Thompson, president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute, a Springfield-based public policy think tank, said the ever-pragmatic Bill Clinton knew how to seize on a popular bipartisan legislative opportunity in an election year. He is not sure Barack Obama, or the Democrat-controlled Senate, will do the same.
“Since the Senate has acted on such a small portion of what the House has passed, we shouldn’t hold our breath,” he said. “It depends if the president feels it is going to be beneficial to him, as Clinton did. Clinton got (welfare reform) through and signed it and it was better for everybody.
“I haven’t seen a whole lot of Clinton political expertise from the administration when it comes to these kinds of issues.”
The bill debuted in March and has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, where it has yet to be debated.