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In Letter to Trump Admin Officials, Pingree Joins 34 Members of Congress in Opposing Plan to Turn Medicaid into Block Grants Without Consent of Congress, Says Plan is Illegal

Washington, January 29, 2020

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) today joined 34 of her House colleagues in writing to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma to oppose the Trump administration’s plan to covert Medicaid into block grants.

“The purpose of block grant waivers is to overhaul the state’s Medicaid program by capping federal funding. In turn, states would be given a lump sum of federal money, freed from federal oversight or accountability measures; measures which encourage baseline benefits and quality of care to be available to all enrollees. These waivers would give states the ability to limit and remove enrollees or cut certain health care benefits and rates, if they believe they are too costly or unnecessary,” Pingree and her colleagues wrote in the in the letter. 

Tomorrow, CMS Administrator Verma is expected to send letters to state Medicaid directors announcing the Administration’s plans to turn Medicaid into a block grant program, thereby capping funding and allowing states to limit health benefits and drugs available to some patients. The Trump administration program threatens the success of Medicaid expansion—a cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act—which has reduced mortality rates nationwide by 9.3%. 

In their letter, the lawmakers called the Trump administration’s attempt to implement a Medicaid block grant program without the consent of Congress illegal.

“Not only do Medicaid block grants directly oppose Congress’s intent for the Medicaid program, but they are illegal under Section 1115,” the members wrote, “Earlier this month, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. and Senate Finance Ranking Member Ron Wyden sent a letter to the Office of Inspector General in the Department of Health and Human Services citing the illegality of Medicaid block grants.[5] Chairman Pallone and Ranking Member Wyden are both members of the two Committees with jurisdiction over Medicaid; the agency should heed their concern over the lack of program integrity should these waivers be approved.”

By contrast, the Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress and has survived numerous attempts by Republicans to topple the lifesaving legislation. The landmark law has been upheld twice by the United States Supreme Court.

This is second time the Trump administration has tried to undermine Medicaid, the nation’s safety net health care program that covers approximately 25% of Americans. In January 2018, Administrator Verma issued a guidance letter that allowed states to implement work requirements in order to qualify for Medicaid—80 hours monthly with a $40 monthly premium. 10 lawsuits were issued in response to this guidance.

A copy of the letter sent by the members of Congress is available here.

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