Three Republican Governors Who Were For Privatizing Medicaid Before They Were Against It

Last Friday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it would allow states to pursue waivers letting them privatize their Medicaid expansions under Obamacare — an idea that took root with a deal worked out by Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D) and the Obama HHS last month. Commentators and policy-makers heralded it as a “game-changer” for the reform law, as it could influence red states — many of which have high poverty levels and massive uninsurance rates — to extend coverage to poor people and help facilitate a major Obamacare provision.

But as Medicaid policy expert and George Washington University professor Sarah Rosenbaum smartly pointed out to the Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff in March, using federal dollars to put Medicaid-eligible populations into privately-contracted plans isn’t a novel concept at all — to the contrary, states have actually been doing it for decades through their increasing use of Medicaid managed care (MMC) arrangements. These arrangements contract beneficiaries’ care out to private insurers and providers, and a full “two-thirds of Medicaid enrollees now receive most or all of their benefits in managed care.”

Republicans have historically been strong proponents of MMC, touting its potential to cut costs while protecting poor Americans’ benefits. But with HHS’s new offer to institute a wide-scale version of this program now on the table, several notable Republicans are balking at the idea — including some who have pushed for similar measures themselves in the recent past:

1. TEXAS GOV. RICK PERRY. The 2012 presidential aspirant has been on an anti-Medicaid bender of sorts lately, declaring that “Texas will not be held hostage by the Obama administration’s attempt to force us into the fool’s errand of adding more than a million Texans to a broken system.” Yet, during his presidential run in late 2011, Perry struck a massive deal with federal officials allowing him to move close to a million Medicaid beneficiaries into managed care. Perry heralded the move in a press release, saying, “By approving Texas’ Healthcare Transformation and Quality Improvement Program Waiver, state and local officials can provide more efficient and effective care, and implement locally-tailored health solutions.” Apparently, Perry doesn’t view the Obama Administration’s offer on privatized Medicaid to be a similar opportunity for implementing “locally-tailored” solutions.

2. LOUISIANA GOV. BOBBY JINDAL. One of Obamacare’s most ardent critics, Jindal has steadfastly refused to expand Medicaid in his low-income state, saying that “Medicaid still operates under a 1960s model of medicine with inflexible, one-size-fits-all benefits and little consumer engagement and responsibility.” So far, he has stuck by that decision despite the urging of local lawmakers and his own state’s hospital chains. But back in 2011, Jindal aggressively — and successfully — pushed through an expansion of Louisiana’s MMC program, shifting 900,000 Medicaid and CHIP beneficiaries onto private, managed care. The measure was actually Jindal’s number one health care-related priority for 2012, and his administration publicly sold it “as a way to save taxpayer money and provide better care through coordination among doctors, hospitals and other medical professionals.”

3. MISSISSIPPI GOV. PHIL BRYANT. In an interview with Kaiser Health News, the Mississippi governor said, “I would rather pay extra to Blue Cross [to help cover uncompensated costs for the uninsured], rather than have to raise taxes to pay for additional Medicaid recipients” — a tacit endorsement of a managed care scheme. In fact, in 2012, Bryant signed a bill allowing Mississippi’s Medicaid division to increase the proportion of beneficiaries who could be placed onto managed care programs from 15 percent to 45 percent of the aggregate pool. Bryant has attributed his opposition to Medicaid expansion to his view that the program disincentivizes people “to find a better job, or to go back to school, or to get [into] a workforce training program.”