Sebelius says more businesses should join Medicaid debate

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on health insurance exchanges on November 6, 2013 in the Dirksen Senate Office on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
As many as 25 states that have yet to expand Medicaid as part of Obamacare, but getting more businesses involved in the debate could be the key to greater expansion, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told state and local officials on Tuesday.

“I would say the voices that often are powerful partners in this debate... tend to come from the business communities,” Sebelius said in a conference call with elected officials about the status of the new Obamacare marketplaces.

Her comments came in response to a question from Florida State Rep. Betty Reed, a Democrat. Business leaders, Sebelius said, can be mobilized in Florida and elsewhere to make the economic for expansion -- pointing to the lack of productivity that results from leaving people uninsured -- and the moral case.

Thirty governors have endorsed some form of Medicaid expansion, the secretary said, but just 25 state legislatures have moved forward with it.

Under Obamacare, states have the choice to expand Medicaid so that it's available to anyone with an income under 138 percent of the federal poverty line. Currently, Medicaid exists as a joint federal-state program that provides health care to certain poor Americans, such as children and the elderly.

While the nation is so far split on the issue, the debate  hasn't always fallen along partisan lines. The GOP governors on board with the Medicaid expansion have pointed to the minimal fiscal impact it will have on state budgets -- for the first two years, the federal government pays for 100 percent of the expansion. Starting in 2017, the states start chipping in, but they will never contribute more than 10 percent of the cost.

The expansion of Medicaid has been one bright spot for the administration as it works on improving, the federal website that serves as a portal for 36 states to the new Obamacare marketplaces where people can buy private insurance coverage. Earlier this month, the administration announced that while only 106,185 people had enrolled in private Obamacare plans in the first month of open enrollment, an additional 396,261 were deemed eligible for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

President Obama earlier this month took the state of Texas to task for failing so far to expand Medicaid. "Across this state, you've got a million people -- because this is a big state -- a million people, citizens, who don't have health insurance who get insurance right away," Mr. Obama said at a stop in Dallas.