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Governors Preparing Bipartisan Health Care Plan For Congress To Consider

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (left) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich will present a plan that fleshes out a set of principles they wrote about in an op-ed in <em>The Washington Post</em>.
Carolyn Kaster
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (left) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich will present a plan that fleshes out a set of principles they wrote about in an op-ed in The Washington Post.

In the wake of congressional Republicans' failure to pass a health care bill, two governors from different parties are going to bring their own ideas to Washington.

Staff for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, are working on a joint plan to stabilize the country's health insurance markets. Kasich told Colorado Public Radio's Colorado Matters that they expect to release it ahead of September hearings in the U.S. Senate. They also intend to get other governors from both parties to sign onto the plan, to show support at the state level.

"We're getting very close. I just talked to my guys today, men and women who are working on this with [Hickenlooper's] people, and we think we'll have some specifics here, I actually think we could have it within a week," Kasich said in a joint interview with Hickenlooper that aired Tuesday.

The plan will flesh out a set of principles the two men wrote about in an op-ed in The Washington Post, in which they said another one-party health care plan is "doomed to fail," just like the Republican plans considered this year. In the op-ed, they asserted that the best place to start reform efforts is "to restore stability to our nation's health insurance system."

Bipartisan health care hearings, including the one the governors will appear at, are set to begin just after Labor Day when Congress returns from its August recess. Lawmakers will be consumed with a number of deadlines involving government funding, though — sending health care to the back burner.

"I'm not going to get into specifics with you until we have it all ironed out, but it's not going to be some pie-in-the-sky, way-up-there kind of stuff. There will be things that we will address that will have specific solutions. And one of the things we're finding out is the states do have some power to do some things unique to them, as long as these insurance markets are going to be stabilized," Kasich said.

One specific they agree on and would discuss: changing the Affordable Care Act mandate that employers with 50 or more employees provide insurance coverage. The governors say that number is too low, which deters hiring at small companies.

They also agree that the possibility of national single-payer coverage is not on the table in their discussions.

In recent months, Hickenlooper and Kasich have appeared on national television shows to advocate for bipartisan health care reform that includes keeping the Medicaid expansion intact, with both took advantage of in their states. The two governors have even entertained running for the White House on a split ticket.

Interview Highlights With Govs. Hickenlooper And Kasich

On whether they think health care should be a "right"

John Hickenlooper: I come from the school that I think it is a right. I'm not sure how much health care is included in that right, but some basic coverage.

John Kasich: I don't think that's that important in this. I mean we want everybody to have health insurance. I mean that's how I feel. Is it a right or is it a privilege or whatever? I don't know why that declaration is important ... The question is how do you do it, and that's what we're working on ... Primary care is important. Catastrophic coverage is important. We don't want anybody to get bankrupted because they get sick.

On what to change about the Affordable Care Act first

Hickenlooper: There are several important things, but the probably top one on our list would be this notion of having some sort of reinsurance [using public money to help insure the sickest people] to make sure the high-cost pool is not causing higher rates for all the people seeking insurance on the private markets ... You use reinsurance in almost every type of insurance program to cut off those "hilltops" as we say.

On why this joint effort may gain traction

Hickenlooper: "[The Senate's health committee] is now holding hearings [starting Sept. 5], and hopefully in those hearings we'll get a chance to present, hopefully, what by that point a number of both Republican and Democratic governors think look like good ideas."

The Colorado Matters website has the full transcript.

This story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, Colorado Public Radio and Kaiser Health News.

Copyright 2017 CPR News

Rachel Estabrook
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