Governors Commit to Medicaid, High School Reforms
By Pamela M. Prah, Staff Writer
The nation's governors ended four days of meetings in Washington, D.C., pressed into action on two major fronts: making high school more demanding and crafting a bipartisan plan to revamp Medicaid.
Education and health care, which make up nearly half of each state's budget, dominated the National Governors Association's annual winter meeting, which concluded March 1.
Specifically, states' top executives left the nation's capital united in their opposition to cuts in the amount of money the federal government gives states for health care programs for the poor and prepared to negotiate with the Bush administration to fix the state-federal Medicaid program. Plus, they ended their 2005 National Education Summit on High Schools eager to end the free ride that many high school students enjoy before graduation.
"We've had an extraordinary four days," Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D), chairman of the National Governors Association, said as he closed the annual meeting.
Here are highlights of this year's NGA winter in Washington:
- Education: Thirteen states promised to raise the academic bar in their high schools and better prepare students for college and the workforce: Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Texas. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pitched in the first $15 million of $23 million from nonprofit foundations for matching grants to help states improve high schools.
- Medicaid: The pressure is on the governors to come up with a bipartisan plan to fix Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for 52 million poor and disabled Americans. The White House pledged to work with the governors, but lawmakers on Capitol Hill have not shown much interest in restructuring Medicaid, so governors have their work cut out for them. Biggest sticking point: The president is sticking to his plan to cut $40 billion over 10 years in federal funds that go to states.
- Nursing homes: The governors agreed to prod Congress to pass legislation that allows states to create special programs enabling seniors to pre-pay for long-term care and that guarantees the state will pick up costs if policy benefits run out. Currently, only four states have the federal government's blessing to operate such plans.
- Homeland security: Governors formally asked U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to work with them to outline the National Guard's changing role in homeland defense, reiterating their concerns about the strain that ongoing military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are placing on the Guard at home. Governors also called on Congress to start providing all National Guard members with the same health care benefits now given to active military members and to address pay gaps faced by guardsmen called up for extensive deployments.
- Taxes: Top telecommunications industry officials met with governors to figure out a system that allows states to tax telecommunication services, regardless of how the service is delivered, whether it's cable, traditional phone lines or the Internet. Progress was made, but more work lies ahead.
- Environment: Western governors urged Congress to update and modernize the 30-year-old Endangered Species Act and to change the way the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife decides which animals to list as endangered.
- Technology: Governors looked to cut costs by making health records more high-tech. Governors heard from a Virginia hospital that put bar codes on medications and on patients' bracelets to avoid medication errors and from a Massachusetts "e-health" program that allows the sharing of patients' insurance data with health-care providers.
The governors will convene July 16 in Iowa for their summer meeting. On tap: an update on how states are faring in their pledges to reform high schools.
Stateline.org reporters Kathleen Hunter, Kavan Peterson, Kathleen Murphy and Eric Kelderman contributed to this report.