Obama says he will support letting states opt out of health-care law earlier

President Barack Obama is offering to let states unhappy with his health care overhaul design their own plans as long as they fulfill the goals of his landmark law. (Feb. 28)
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, February 28, 2011; 8:35 PM

President Obama told a group of governors Monday that he would support moving up the timetable in which states may opt out of the federal health care law, making a major overture to critics of the legislation.

In his speech to the governors, who were attending the winter meeting of the National Governors Association, Obama said he would approve of allowing states to opt out of the Affordable Care Act by 2014 if they could offer health-care coverage for as many people as they would under the law and not increase the deficit. Under the original law, states could not opt until in 2017. Still, 2014 is a critical year, as many of the most important provisions of the bill, including the mandate, go into effect.

The new opt-out provision was first proposed by a bipartisan group of senators that included Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

"I think that's a reasonable proposal. I support it," Obama told governors of both parties assembled in the State Dining Room. "It will give you more flexibility more quickly, while still guaranteeing the American people reform. If your state can create a plan that covers as many people as affordably and comprehensively as the Affordable Care Act does - without increasing the deficit - you can implement that plan. And we'll work with you to do it."

Obama's move comes as a number of states, nearly all with Republican attorneys general, have filed suit to invalidate the law, arguing that requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance is unconstitutional. Three federal courts have ruled that the current law is constitutional, while two have struck it down.

The flexibility on opting out could appeal to Republicans both in Congress and in statehouses, who have been the main critics of the legislation. And some more liberal states, such as Oregon, have said they might consider alternative ways to expand insurance.

The governors said Obama's willingness to support an earlier opt-out from the law was welcome, but they stopped short of fully embracing it.

"A number of our fellow governors would be very interested in supporting this," said Gov. Christine Gregoire (D-Wash.), the current NGA chair. "We need to talk to them to see if we can put our support behind that bill as the National Governors Association. But I can assure you there is conservable interest among the governors."

The more flexibility in managing health care the better, Gov. Mary Fallin (R-Okla.) said. But "we'll see if it's going to be flexible enough."

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) was also cautious. "The devil's in the details," he said. "We have to learn more about it before we know."

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) opposed the health-care law while he was still in the Senate. He said the president's proposal doesn't negate what he and other Republicans see as a fatally flawed law. "This offers a little bit of flexibility, which I think is a positive thing, but it doesn't change the overall objection to the bill."

Brownback said he and others who are challenging the law in court will "implement what we're required to do" while continuing to fight it.

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