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Obama offers ‘flexibility’ on health care law

WASHINGTON – Looking for some goodwill from the nation’s governors, President Barack Obama said Monday that he’s willing to bend a bit to help them deal with their budgetary problems stemming from health care costs – and the political heat rising from his 2010 law to expand health care.

Obama, addressing the National Governors Association, said he supports a move to let states design their own health care systems starting in 2014 with waivers from provisions of his 2010 Affordable Care Act, so long as those state systems meet the law’s goals. The existing law wouldn’t allow state waivers until 2017.

“It will give you flexibility more quickly while still guaranteeing the American people reform,” Obama told the governors. “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.”

The president vowed as well to work with a bipartisan panel of governors to find alternate ways to reduce Medicaid costs without hurting services to those who need it, if the governors can come up with recommendations that meet his qualifications.

Obama’s concessions followed weekend appeals from governors of both parties for federal help in reducing the budget-crushing costs of Medicaid, whose expenses are split between federal and state governments. The governors were attending their semiannual conference here.

Obama said that his 2010 health care law already recognizes that states need flexibility to do things their way. “Alabama is not going to have exactly the same health needs as Massachusetts or California or North Dakota. We believe in that flexibility,” he said.

Meanwhile, Obama’s health care law faces legal challenges from at least 27 states. Offering states more flexibility in meeting its terms could at least cool the public debate, though it’s unlikely to end court challenges to the law.


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