Sununu praises, then disavows Graham-Cassidy bill to replace Obamacare

  • Chris Sununu in Concord, N.H., in September 2016. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole

Monitor staff
Published: 9/18/2017 6:32:41 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu disavowed a last-ditch federal bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act Monday, praising provisions that would introduce block-grant funds to states but distancing himself from vast Medicaid cuts included in the legislation.

The bill, proposed by Republican Sens. Lindsay Graham and Bill Cassidy, would dramatically overhaul the U.S. health care system, replacing Affordable Care Act tax subsidies with a state-by-state grant system and making deep reductions to Medicaid and Medicare. 

In a statement Monday, Sununu — who has worked with other Republican governors to ensure state control — said the cuts in the present plan would go too far.

“While I continue to strongly believe that Obamacare must be reformed, it must be replaced with something that works for New Hampshire,” Sununu said, referring to the Affordable Care Act introduced by President Barack Obama.

Sununu added that the Graham-Cassidy bill would deprive the Granite State of $1 billion in Medicaid funding during a phase out between 2020 and 2026, citing a figure by the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services.

That “down-shifting,” he said, could create “general fund liabilities” that would threaten New Hampshire’s tradition of not having an income or sales tax.  

“While innovative, consumer-driven programs that eliminate waste and provide flexibility is the direction our nation’s health care must go, it is not practical for New Hampshire to craft a system with over $1 billion in cuts to federal funding,” he said. 

For Republicans in Washington, the Graham-Cassidy bill is the latest — and likely last — attempt this year to undo Obama’s signature health care bill.

Republican senators have until Sept. 30 to use the budget reconciliation process to push legislation through with just 50 votes, after a series of previous attempts were scuttled this summer by razor-thin margins. Leadership members are hoping that the Graham-Cassidy bill, compounded by the ticking clock, will be enough to convince the caucus to fall in line.

For Sununu, Monday’s statement contained echoes of previous disavowals of past repeal efforts in Congress. While vocally critical of the Affordable Care Act, the governor has balked at any efforts to pare back Medicaid, which was broadly expanded under Obama’s legislation. Citing similar concerns about cuts, Sununu rejected the Better Care Reconciliation Act in June and the U.S. House’s American Health Care Act in May, though both times called for more state flexibility.

But Monday’s dismissal of the Graham-Cassidy bill also appeared days after comments the governor made to the Portsmouth Herald that praised the senators’ proposed block grant system. In an editorial board interview, Sununu said that he and other governors had been working on legislative proposals with Sens. Graham and Cassidy that would include state-centric policies.

“Today the Senate’s going to put forward a proposal that really takes into account a lot of the things governor’s are looking for — a real flexibility to the state, a true block grant, things of that nature” he said, according to audio from the interview. “I think we’ve given then some great ideas in terms of where to go, and what the implementers of our departments want to see.”

Earlier Monday, the editorial board comments were seized on by the New Hampshire Democratic Party, which distributed a clip of the interview audio and called for a telephone campaign to the governor’s office. Following the governor’s announcement Monday afternoon, party officials accused the governor of flip-flopping on his position in the face of pressure.

But Ben Vihstadt, a spokesman for the governor, said that Sununu’s position Monday was consistent with his principles, and that his support of the bill Friday was contingent on a review of how it would affect New Hampshire.

“Governor Sununu has continuously expressed support for reforming Obamacare, and reiterated his support for providing flexibility to states,” Vihstadt said. “(His) statement today was a result of learning the full details of the expected impact of Graham-Cassidy on New Hampshire.”

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