February 5, 1997 in Nation/World

Governors Seek Medicaid Leeway Uneasy Over Impact On States, They Oppose Fed Spending Cap

Associated Press

The nation’s governors asked for more flexibility Tuesday in the way they administer the Medicaid health program for the poor.

Bob Miller of Nevada, who chairs the National Governors’ Association, said governors continue to oppose President Clinton’s call for a per-capita limit on Medicaid benefits.

The governors initially raised the issue at the White House on Monday, telling the president they oppose limiting the amount of federal money that could be spent per person. They said that would leave the states to pay the rest of the bill.

Clinton plans to propose such a cap in his budget, to be released Thursday. But he asked governors to withhold judgment until they see the details.

At a news conference closing the governors’ meeting, Miller said a task force will assess whatever Clinton proposes, adding that he expects the president to offer some of the administrative flexibility that governors have been seeking.

“Essentially, we feel that if you are going to give the basic responsibility to a state you must also give states flexibility” to make sure the services are made available to the most people in the most economical manner possible, he said.

“We think Medicaid reform is going to be a moving target for the next few months,” Miller said. “Our position is that a per-capita cap is not desirable.”

Governors want any limit on federal spending to come with flexibility for states to control who gets Medicaid and the extent of benefits.

In their final session, the governors listened as a panel of speakers, led by Hollywood producer Rob Reiner, pushed for expanded state and local efforts to improve child development from ages 1 through 3.

Reiner cited theories that early intervention to improve the lives of children makes for better-adjusted, more-productive adults.

He said the goal is quality child care for all children, broadly available physical and mental health care, and programs to teach parents the skills they need and home visits during a child’s first five years.

The governors approved a number of policy resolutions, including one calling for the federal government to grant them more leeway in developing care programs based on the home and community and in promoting efficiency and cost controls.

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