Harris floats Obamacare change to address budget

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Andy Harris on Thursday proposed increasing the share states would pay to expand Medicaid under Obamacare as a way to roll back deep federal budget cuts known as sequestration -- an idea that met with quick opposition from supporters of the health care law.

The Baltimore County Republican and Johns Hopkins trained anesthesiologist introduced legislation that would require states to pick up a 10 percentage point higher share for new Medicaid enrollees than called for in the 2010 Affordable Care Act. A back-of-the-envelope estimate suggests the move would offset a significant portion of the annual sequester cuts.


The Affordable Care Act expands the number of people who are eligible to receive health insurance through Medicaid. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost of new enrollees for the first several years and 90 percent of the cost after that. Harris proposes reducing the federal share of the expense, shifting that cost to states.

"With the concerns both parties have expressed over the sequester, I am proposing a common sense way to offset the cuts," Harris said in a statement. "As the budget committees are continuing negotiations, I hope they will consider this solution."


Lawmakers are negotiating a broad budget plan to fund the government past Jan. 15 and potentially reverse some of the sequester cuts that began in March -- an idea that has bipartisan support. There is less agreement, however, on how to restore those cuts without adding to the deficit. It's not clear whether negotiators are considering the Harris proposal.

Twenty-five states, including Maryland, have agreed to expand their Medicaid populations, but others have raised concerns about long-term costs and are opting out. The Harris proposal would meet with significant opposition from governors who are expanding their programs and would now be stuck with a higher price tag. For that reason alone, the idea is unlikely to gain traction in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

"That's insulting," said Lauren Weiner with Americans United for Change, a liberal advocacy group that supports the health care law. "This is another attempt to sabotage the Affordable Care Act by the Republican Party. Harris and his Republican colleagues -- the same people who complain that expanding Medicaid would cost states too much -- are now asking states to pay more."