Sebelius Slams Governors For ‘Playing Politics With People’s Lives’ By Refusing Medicaid Expansion

CREDIT: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

On Tuesday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius warned that the continued opposition to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion is putting Americans’ lives at stake, and criticized Republican lawmakers for prioritizing their political opposition to health reform at the expense of their uninsured residents.

“Unfortunately, what I think we have in a large case is governors playing politics with people’s lives and people’s health,” Sebelius said in an interview with HuffPost Live. “There’s no reason that this return on investment isn’t a very positive thing because there’s a cost of doing nothing in those states.”

If states choose to participate in the Medicaid expansion, the federal government will pick up most of the tab for extending public coverage to additional low-income people. One study estimated that states will receive more than $9 from the federal government for every $1 they invest in their Medicaid programs. On the other hand, if states refuse expansion, they won’t receive any of those generous federal funds.

And as Sebelius notes, there’s a human cost to the decision to forgo expansion, too. Since more than 20 GOP-led states have dug in their heels against this particular Obamacare provision, an estimated 5.8 million Americans are being left without affordable insurance. Some of those states, like Texas, have some of the highest rates of poverty and uninsurance in the nation. Without Medicaid expansion, the health disparities in those states are expected to worsen. Researchers from Harvard recently estimated that as many as 17,000 low-income Americans will die directly as a result of their states refusing to expand Medicaid.

Nonetheless, leaders like Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) have repeatedly refused to consider participating in the Medicaid expansion. “It’s really about his own ideological battle with the president of the United States,” Sebelius told HuffPost Live in reference to Perry’s stance. “Unfortunately, in this case, people’s health is at stake.”

According to a memo released on Wednesday by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), other Democratic lawmakers are preparing to follow Sebelius’ lead, and will criticize GOP leaders who have refused to expand Medicaid. The new effort is part of a larger push to speak out more vocally in defense of the Afforable Care Act.

Although the fight over Medicaid has been largely draw along political lines, there’s some evidence that Obamacare opponents can agree to the expansion without sacrificing their seats. The handful of Republicans who have agreed to expand Medicaid appear to be well-positioned for reelection, while the leaders who remain resistant may actually be more vulnerable. A growing number of GOP leaders are now seeking to craft alternatives to expansion — mainly, so-called “private options” to allow low-income people to use subsidies to sign up for private plans — so they don’t have to miss out on the federal funding.