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Healthcare Is Center of Governors’ Attention

From Associated Press

Governors agreed Sunday to sweeping Medicaid changes that could help fulfill President Bush’s budget goals, even as more than a dozen of the chief executives were considering a legal fight over a new Medicare policy that would cost states hundreds of millions of dollars.

The governors’ focus on the two government-paid healthcare programs -- Medicare for the elderly, Medicaid for the poor -- underscored the prevailing view at their summer meeting that healthcare was their most urgent issue, for constituents and for states’ financial future.

“This is coming down the pike at us real quick,” Democrat Mark R. Warner of Virginia said about the complex Medicare changes, which governors said would unfairly force states to pay part of Bush’s new prescription drug benefit. “In January it’s going to be on our doorstep.”

Governors also agreed to standardize the way they tracked high school graduation rates, part of their campaign to improve high school education.

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But worries about Medicare, and the consensus on Medicaid after six months of negotiations among governors, dominated private discussions, most governors said.

The governors’ Medicaid plan would allow states to demand co-payments from the poor, the disabled and women with children, and add tools to prevent seniors from giving relatives assets in order to qualify for Medicaid-funded long-term care. Governors at the meeting said they had the support of all 50 governors for their plan, which was aimed at slowing the growing cost of Medicaid and at giving states the chance to experiment with more effective ways to deliver healthcare.

The governors’ concerns about Medicare centered on a relatively small portion of Bush’s new drug prescription policy that would affect people who are poor enough to qualify for Medicaid and old enough to qualify for Medicare.

Governors have long argued that the federal government should pay the costs of that group, which are significantly higher per person than for the rest of the Medicaid population.

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The new Medicare law means the federal government nominally takes over responsibility for that group, but requires states to continue to pay the overwhelming majority of the bill for their drugs by sending cash to Washington.

Many governors said the formula meant states would pay more than before, and Democrat Jennifer Granholm of Michigan said about 17 governors were contemplating lawsuits.

Governors met privately Sunday with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). His panel is considering Bush’s budget goal of reducing the growth of Medicaid by $10 billion over the next five years.

Grassley said the governors’ work was crucial. “It’s really key to getting something done. We will not get a bipartisan agreement in Congress without a bipartisan agreement from the governors.”

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