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GOP Governors Try to Defund Health Care, Pit Teachers Against the Poor

As we get deeper into the electoral cycle and things get more polarized, it should come as no surprise that attitudes have become more polarized on health care. The health care question stands in for the political mood, which cuts against Democrats at the moment. Whether or not that holds depends on the implementation process. I don’t know that the public will be willing to wait until 2014 when the whole program comes on-line, and then evaluate it on the merits. But even if they do, at least a couple Republican Governors have decided to stoke their most committed partisans by deliberately trying to distort and defund the law.

In Nebraska, Governor Dave Heineman appealed to education groups in the state to fight to repeal the reform law, because expanding Medicaid would necessarily lead to less money for education. This pitting of one set of social programs against another has not yet worked, and even Bad Nelson has spoken out against it. Heineman bases his claim about Medicaid spending on bad data that inflates Nebraska’s responsibility by five-fold. It goes without saying that Heineman is running for re-election.

In Minnesota, would-be Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty has taken this a step further — he’s banning all competitive grant requests related to the health care law.

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty Tuesday ordered all state agencies to not to submit applications to any health care funding from the federal government related to the health care overhaul.

Any applications must be either required by law or approved by the governor’s office.

Pawlenty, who appears to be gearing up for a run for president in 2012, has long decried the health care overhaul, which opponents call Obamacare, and has pledged to join a lawsuit to undo it.

This will not change any receipt of money required by the law, as the story says, but just shortchanges Minnesota on grants for things like wellness or prevention programs. Pawlenty’s successor will really be driving this when the law kicks into gear after he exits office at the beginning of next year, but it’s a nice campaign-ready slogan (“I blocked Minnesota from a government takeover of health care!”).

And after all, Pawlenty doesn’t have to worry about whether or not sick people in his state get federal dollars that could help them; his health care will be paid for in full. Businesses who want handouts to deal with their crushing health care burden are another matter — that eats into their profits. That’s why you saw Koch Industries, the biggest funder of anti-Obama tea parties, petition the government for federal funds.

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services announced the “first round of applicants accepted into the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program,” a $5 billion program established by the new health care law to help employers and states “maintain coverage for early retirees age 55 and older who are not yet eligible for Medicare.” According to the agency, “nearly 2,000 employers, representing large and small businesses, State and local governments, educational institutions, non-profits, and unions” applied and have been accepted into the program and “will begin to receive reimbursements for employee claims this fall.”

Ironically, one of those employers is the oil, chemicals, and manufacturing conglomerate Koch Industries, which as Lee Fang has reported, has also spent millions of dollars opposing reform.

I guess it’s a different ballgame when profits are on the line.

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David Dayen

David Dayen