February 14, 2016

Senate Democrats advance their Medicaid expansion plan (AUDIO)

The 26 Democrats in the Iowa Senate voted tonight to accept federal tax dollars to cover more low-income Iowans who’re uninsured — another chapter in a long-running dispute with Iowa’s Republican governor. Democrats like Senate President Pam Jochum of Dubuque argued the state should extend government-paid Medicaid coverage to as many of 150,000 more Iowans.

“I have no doubt in my mind or in my heart that the Medicaid expansion is not only financially smart, it is morally the right thing to do,” Jochum said.

All 23 Republicans in the Iowa Senate voted against the Democrats’ plan. Senator Mark Segebart, a Republican from Vail, urged Democrats to wait ’til Branstad unveils the details of his “Healthy Iowa” alternative.

“This is not our final vote on this issue and I think we need to do more due diligence until we can vote on this issue,” Segebart said.

Governor Branstad argues the State of Iowa could eventually have to shoulder the entire cost for expanding Medicaid coverage to tens of thousands more Iowans. Senator Jack Whitver, a Republican from Ankeny, said he shares the governor’s fear that the federal government will fail to fulfill its promise to pay the bills.

“We need a solution that is best for Iowa and the care of our citizens,” Whitver said, “not a one-size-fits-all federal entitlement program that is unsustainable and is bankrupting both the federal government and many states.”

Senator Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, called those Republican complaints “bizarre.”

“When did you all stop believing in America?” Bolkcom asked. “When did you give up on the ability of the greatest country in the history of the world to solve a simple problem: providing access to health insurance?”

Some Republican Senators like David Johnson of Ocheyedan suggested once the details of Branstad’s plan are revealed, it then could be compared and perhaps merged with the Democrats’ plan.

“St. Augustin once wrote: ‘Let us not on either side claim we have already discovered the truth,'” Johnson said.

Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs said legislators have been waiting nine months for Branstad to produce details.

“The governor will leave out 65,000 Iowans — we do have one detail,” Gronstal said. “I’m pretty sure if that’s where we end up, that will not be our finest hour.”

Senators debated the issue for an hour and a half tonight.

AUDIO of Senate debate of SF296.

Republicans in the House are waiting for the governor’s plan to be drafted in bill form and they’ll use it as the foundation for their debate on the issue.

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