Governors report 'Obamacare' repeal complicated, if not impossible as millions gain coverage

The Associated Press

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker uses a cell phone to illustrate a point about health care plans during a special session on jobs in America during the National Governor's Association Winter Meeting in Washington, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

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By STEVE PEOPLES and KEN THOMAS, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The explosive politics of health care have divided the nation, but America's governors, Republicans and Democrats alike, suggest that President Barack Obama's health care overhaul is here to stay.

While governors from Connecticut to Louisiana sparred Sunday over how best to improve the nation's economy, governors of both parties shared a far more pragmatic outlook on the controversial program known as "Obamacare" as millions of their constituents begin to be covered.

"We're just trying to make the best of a bad situation," said Republican Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa, who called the health care law "unaffordable and unsustainable" yet something he has to implement by law. "We're trying to make it work as best we can for the people of Iowa."

As governors gathered in Washington this weekend, Democrats such as Maryland's Martin O'Malley and Connecticut's Dannel Malloy made pitches to raise the minimum wage, while Republicans such as Louisiana's Bobby Jindal and Indiana's Mike Pence called for more freedom from federal regulations, particularly those related to the health insurance overhaul.

But governors from both parties say a full repeal of the law would be complicated at best, if not impossible, as states move forward with implementation and begin covering millions of people — both by expanding Medicaid rolls for lower-income residents or through state or federal exchanges that offer federal subsidies to those who qualify.

Obama hosted most of the governors for a White House dinner Sunday night, calling for collaboration on the economy, education, climate change and health care in what he hopes will be "a year of action."

Republican opposition to the health care law is the centerpiece of the GOP's political strategy ahead of the midterm elections. And to be sure, not every GOP leader embraced the inevitability of the law's implementation.

"I don't think that it's so deeply entrenched that it can't be repealed," Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said. "But I do think, as we argue for repeal, we have to show folks what you replace it with."

Despite a troubled rollout, nearly 3.3 million people have signed up through Feb. 1 for health care coverage under the law. The White House reported that 1 million people signed up nationwide for private insurance under the law in January alone. It remains unclear whether the administration will reach its unofficial goal of 7 million people by the end of March, but it still expects several million enrollees by then.

A recent Associated Press analysis found that sign-ups in six Republican-led states — Florida, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin — were on pace to match or exceed figures the states had initially projected.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is among several Republicans who expanded his state's Medicaid laws.

"The whole dialogue on the Affordable Care Act is about people fighting, causing gridlock and a mess, instead of working on something important like wellness," Snyder said, adding that he still has "a lot of issues" with the overhaul. "But it is the law, so I'm trying to work in that context."

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who leads the Democratic Governors Association, said governors spent about half of their private lunch session Saturday discussing the health care law and the tone was much different than in past years.

"Before the election, it felt like a cockfight," Shumlin said, describing the debate over the law during the 2012 campaign. "Down there we were talking about ways we could cooperate."

"There's no doubt in my mind that the Republicans have accepted that as millions of people sign up for it and finally get the health care they have been dreaming of for their families, nobody's going to take that away," Shumlin said.