Governors Split over New Health Care Law Governors Split over New Health Care Law

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Byline: Washington Post Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker cheers GOP presidential contenders, who all pledge a takedown of President Barack Obama's health care reform law if they win the White House.

Meeting with fellow state leaders at the National Governors Association Sunday, the first-term Republican governor said his state can't justify the plan's added costs to his rising Medicaid budget when 90 percent of Wisconsin residents already have health insurance.

But Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois said he could see the lives of people in his state improving roughly 18 months after the law began to take effect. The law has allowed tens of thousands of parents to keep their children on their insurance plans until they are 26, and protected thousands more children from being denied coverage due to earlier health problems.

"It's already working," Quinn said. "We're enthusiastic advocates. No apologies."

Republicans and Democrats, as expected, disagree heartily about whether the health care reform law is worth its benefits to state residents or creates more harm by overburdening state budgets. Both Walker and Quinn are members of the National Governors Association's health committee, which met Sunday in Washington with the goal of recommending ideas to cut states' health care costs for needy residents.

It is a critical moment for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law in March 2010. Republican presidential candidates are calling for its repeal, and the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments next month challenging the law's constitutionality in requiring all Americans to have insurance.

When the national governors met a year ago, both Republican and Democratic members also complained about crushing budget pressures from Medicaid, an insurance program for the poor managed by states and jointly financed by the states and federal government, and whose membership rises with the health care reform effort. The governors then sought more flexibility in implementing the law from the Obama White House, which soon afterward offered states the option to forgo some provisions if they could achieve the goals another way.

Republicans said it didn't help them control their budgets if their states still had to provide more coverage to more people.

This year, despite the divisiveness over the reform, the NGA's health committee met in a collegial fashion and never once mentioned the law that many Republicans derisively call Obamacare and many Democrats consider a major progressive milestone. Instead, both Obama's assistant health secretary, Howard Koh, and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a major opponent who sued to block the law, focused Sunday on what they could agree on: cutting medical suffering and costs by encouraging disease prevention and healthier lifestyle choices. Both sides agreed the majority of the nation's health care costs are now due to chronic diseases largely or entirely preventable, among them some cancers, high blood pressure and diabetes.

The committee saw a color-coded map of the United States that showed the nation's losing fight against obesity from 1985 until the present day. State after state changed over the years from white and light blue, indicating high rates of "lean" citizens, to red and yellow shades that mean high rates of dangerous obesity.

The map was an introduction to Branstad's new state program to increase healthy choices and cut obesity among Iowans, two-thirds of whom are considered overweight or clinically obese. A public-private partnership to reduce unhealthy choices, called the Healthiest State Initiative, seeks to move Iowa from its healthiness ranking of No. 19 among the 50 states to No. 1.

Branstad and state agencies largely provide cheerleading efforts for the initiative, but the work is financed by Iowa's largest insurer, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, with support from a major grocery chain in the state, Hy-Vee. …