DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled Senate approved an expansion of Iowa's Medicaid program Monday, though Republican Gov. Terry Branstad remains firmly opposed to growing the program in the state.
In a 26-23 vote, split down party lines, the Senate backed the legislation. During the 90-minute debate, Democratic lawmakers argued that expanding Medicaid will provide care to more low-income Iowans with little cost to the state.
"It's not the Iowa way to turn our back on 100,000 uninsured Iowans," said Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque. "They are the working poor. They work. They just happen to earn a low wage and happen to work for an employer who doesn't offer health care, nor can they buy it on their own."
Branstad opposes the Medicaid expansion permitted under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. He says the cost of the program is unsustainable for the federal government and has questioned the long-term price tag for states. Republicans in the Senate echoed those sentiments Monday.
"I share the governor's concern that the federal government will not be able to keep their promise," said Sen. Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny. "My friends on the other side of the aisle my not be worried about federal deficits and debt, but I am. "
Branstad has offered an alternate plan called Healthy Iowa, which revamps an existing health program for low-income residents and would use state and federal funds to provide coverage.
"We think it's important we do something that is sustainable for the long term," Branstad said Monday.
Responding to Branstad's concerns about funding, Democrats amended the legislation so that the state could back out if federal funding fell short. Democrats said Healthy Iowa would provide people with fewer benefits than a Medicaid expansion and would cost the state more.
"The governor's plan could still leave as many as 100,000 Iowans uninsured," said Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines. "Let us remember those Iowans and not get caught up in the partisan bickering over ideology."
The Medicaid program that provides health care for financially needy children, families and disabled people in Iowa is run jointly by the state and federal governments. Under Obama's health care overhaul, the federal government would pay the full cost for the new enrollees during the first three years of the expansion and then 10 percent of the cost would gradually be shifted to the state.