President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar, said during his confirmation hearing Tuesday morning that he supports legislation that failed in Congress earlier this year that would have repealed much of the Affordable Care Act and converted Medicaid into a shrinking block grant.
“There are elements that are very positive, such as allowing states to run their own budgets,” Azar said, when asked by one of the failed bill’s sponsors about his views on the legislation. “Incentives can be reoriented in a very positive way for more state empowerment through Graham-Cassidy-Heller.”
The Graham-Cassidy bill would have converted federal funding for both Medicaid and Obamacare’s marketplaces into block grants, which would dwindle over time. Blue states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act would be hardest hit, losing tens of billions of dollars over time. Most red states would see an initial increase in funding, but would face a funding “cliff” in 2027. The Congressional Budget Office reported that millions more people would be uninsured were the legislation passed and implemented.
The gambit failed when a handful of Republicans defected over the bill’s deep cuts to Medicaid, but GOP lawmakers have vowed to bring the bill back in 2018.
Azar is likely to be confirmed as HHS secretary, and his comments Tuesday indicated he will likely be an ally in this effort.
In an exchange with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Azar disputed that Graham-Cassidy would cut billions in funding for Medicaid and insurance subsidies for low-income patients.
“Slowing the rate of growth is not a cut, in my mind or the president’s mind,” he said.