GOP: Obama health-law waiver not enough

March 1, 2011 at 4:00 AM
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WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama has endorsed giving states more flexibility under healthcare-reform law but GOP governors say the offer doesn't go far enough.

"This offers a little bit of flexibility, which I think is a positive thing," Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback said. "But it doesn't change the overall objection to the bill."

The more flexibility in managing healthcare the better, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, also a Republican, said. But "we'll see if it's going to be flexible enough."

"The devil's in the details," The Washington Post quoted Mississippi GOP Gov. Haley Barbour as saying. "We have to learn more about it before we know."

Obama told governors attending the National Governors Association's winter meeting Monday he'd support letting states opt out of key healthcare-reform mandates -- including the requirement that most people carry insurance or pay a fee -- in 2014 instead of 2017, the date provided for in the Affordable Care Act.

To qualify, states would have to offer comparable healthcare coverage for as many people as they would under the law, without increasing the deficit, Obama said.

The opt-out provision was first proposed by Sens. Scott Brown, R-Mass., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mary Landrieu, D-La.

"I think that's a reasonable proposal. I support it," Obama told governors of both parties in the White House State Dining Room. "It will give you flexibility more quickly, while still guaranteeing the American people reform. If your state can create a plan that covers as many people as affordably and comprehensively as the Affordable Care Act does -- without increasing the deficit -- you can implement that plan. And we'll work with you to do it."

A number of states, nearly all with Republican attorneys general, have sued to invalidate the healthcare law, arguing that requiring Americans to buy health insurance is unconstitutional.

The administration has argued that without the mandate, it would not have been able to enact the reform law's new consumer protections, such as barring insurer discrimination against pre-existing conditions.

Three federal courts have ruled the reform law is constitutional, while two have said it isn't.

After Obama's speech Monday, National Governors Association Chairwoman and Washington Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire said: "A number of our fellow governors would be very interested in supporting this. We need to talk to them to see if we can put our support behind that bill as the National Governors Association. But I can assure you there is considerable interest among the governors."

South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley disagreed, saying Obama's proposal "doesn't help us any," The Wall Street Journal reported. "They'd do us a favor if they let us opt out" of the entire law, she said.

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