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Wyden Says Trump Administration Could Derail Oregon's Medicaid Waiver

At the same time, Wyden is fairly certain the federal government will sign off on the waiver before President Obama leaves office.
December 14, 2016

While Governor Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority are urging the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to approve Oregon’s multi-year waiver before President-elect Trump takes office, there still could be trouble ahead, according to U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-OR.

“I think we have a good shot at getting the waiver,” Wyden told The Lund Report. “But I question whether we’ll be home free with the Trump administration. They could come in with, health block grants and change the underlying structure of Medicaid.”

II’s unlikely Oregon could get a blanket exemption from block grants if Congress ends up repealing the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Ac, he said.

“It’s certainly a murky situation,” Wyden added. “I’m going to be fighting and pushing back very hard against block grants on the Senate floor when we consider the budget bills on January 3rd. They promised to repeal and replace Obamacare. I call it repeal and run.”

By shifting to block grants, Oregon could lose billions of dollars and thousands of vulnerable people now on the Oregon Health Plan could lose coverage.

“It’s an enormous threat to Oregon’s Medicaid program,” said Wyden, who’s involved in substantive discussions with President Obama’s staff on Oregon’s waiver. “And, it’s certainly a murky situation.”

Block grants could make Oregon’s transformation project more difficult by restricting its ability to pay for health-related services, better known as the social determinants of health that include housing subsidies to help people out of poverty.

Many of Trump’s allies favor moving toward block grants, among them Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

Oregon’s waiver request of $1.3 billion caps the rate of growth at 3.4 percent by bending the cost curve. Close to 400,000 people now receive coverage following the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Access to care has improved dramatically with over 95 percent of Oregonians and 98 percent of children receiving coverage, according to Claire Tollefsen, public affairs coordinator for the Oregon Health Authority who’s been circulating a petition, asking for signatures from advocacy groups and like-minded organizations to encourage CMS to approve Oregon’s waiver,

Wyden Voted Against Cures Bill

Wyden, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, voted against the 21st Century Cures Act last week after Republican leaders stripped the bipartisan bicameral child welfare legislation out of the bill.

“They squandered an incredible opportunity to improve the foster home system; it was a terrible mistake and would have been the biggest set of improvements in child welfare for decades,” Wyden said. Earlier the bill passed unanimously in the House of Representatives, and had the support of almost 500 child welfare organizations across the country, including the Children’s Defense Fund, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Catholic Bishops. The Family First Prevention Services Act would have helped combat the opioid addiction crisis, keep more children safely in their homes and reduce overreliance on foster care group homes.

“Today the Senate squandered an opportunity to pass legislation that would have offered new hope for hundreds of thousands of America’s most vulnerable children and families. For close to three years, senators and Congress members have worked on bipartisan efforts to produce the Family First Prevention Services Act, so more kids can stay safely at home with their families and relatives, according to a press release from Wyden’s office.

“The Family First Prevention Services Act would implement the most significant improvements to the child welfare system in decades and provide real funding to fight the opioid and other drug epidemics. I am infuriated and heartbroken that Republican leaders struck this bipartisan provision to help the most vulnerable among us from the 21st Century Cures Act that passed today.”

The bill’s progress stalled after a small group of Republican senators voiced concern and Republican leaders struck the bill out of the final version of the 21st Century Cures Act before it was sent to the House floor for a vote.

Diane can be reached at [email protected].