Medicaid expansion becomes weapon against GOP governors

Scott Walker (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

Scott Walker (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

It’s widely accepted as an article of faith that Obamacare will be uniformly bad politics for Dems in 2014. After all, the rollout is a disaster and majorities disapprove of the law, so how could it possibly be any other way, right?

Here’s something that counter-programs that narrative a bit: Democrats are currently using a major pillar of the health law — the Medicaid expansion — as a weapon against Republican Governors in multiple 2014 races. Many of these Governors opted out of the expansion or have advanced their own replacement solutions, and many are facing serious challenges.

In Florida, Democrat Charlie Crist has excoriated GOP Governor Rick Scott for dragging his feet on the Medicaid expansion, claiming a “million” Floridians “will not get health care” as a result. In Wisconsin, Democrat Mary Burke is campaigning on a pledge to reverse GOP Governor Scott Walker’s decision to turn down $119 million in federal money to expand Medicaid to more low-income Wisconsinites.

In Pennsylvania, multiple Dems looking to run for governor are attacking GOP Governor Tom Corbett for subbing in his own plan to expand Medicaid, arguing it’s a ploy to defuse the issue. In Maine, Dem Rep. Mike Michaud is attacking GOP Governor Paul LePage for refusing to opt in.

Some Dems running for governor in red states, such as South Carolina, may not embrace the Medicaid expansion debate as directly. But the fact that it’s emerging as an issue in some high profile races is a reminder that it’s still good politics for Dems to campaign on components of the Affordable Care Act that directly impact many of the constituents these GOP governors represent. Terry McAuliffe was just elected governor of purple Virginia partly on the Medicaid expansion.

Dems will continue using the Medicaid expansion to paint GOP governors in purple or blue states as hostage to a national Tea Party agenda. “Walker, Scott, LePage, and Corbett have refused to lift a finger to bring their taxpayers’ money home to create jobs and expand health care access,” Danny Kanner, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association, tells me. ”It’s the kind of sabotage one might expect from Tea Party Republicans in Congress, but voters will punish those governors for it.”

The larger story is that the Medicaid expansion is emerging as an early Obamacare success — a rare area where the law may already be putting Republicans on the defensive. A new report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services finds that over 1.4 million people in October were deemed eligible to enroll in Medicaid or CHIP. There was a far larger jump in applications where states are expanding Medicaid than where they aren’t — another sign Obamacare may benefit far more people in states where GOP governors are not trying to block the expansion.

Politico’s Edward Isaac-Dovere has a great piece reporting that multiple GOP governors initially elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave are now in contested races precisely because they continue to pursue the Romney agenda that was roundly rejected by voters two years later. The Medicaid expansion is a good example. Obamacare was heavily litigated in 2012; Dems won; and the law’s benefits are now kicking in across the country. Yet some of these GOP governors — originally buoyed by a movement organized largely around Total War opposition to Obamacare — continue to resist accommodation with its Medicaid expansion, even if so doing means denying expanded coverage to their own constituents. And they will now be pressed by Dems to answer for it.

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