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White House pitches health bill to skeptical US governors

By The Associated Press
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The Trump administration is struggling to get support from skeptical U.S. governors for a revised health care bill before the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma made their pitch Saturday morning during a closed-door meeting of the bipartisan National Governors Association. Vice President Mike Pence also met several of the governors privately after his public address at the Rhode Island conference on Friday.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, one of the bill's most prominent Republican skeptics, said Saturday it's unlikely they changed anyone's mind.

"I am struggling to validate the numbers that are being presented to me by the administration, versus what I'm hearing from independent (experts), what I'll likely hear from the (Congressional Budget Office), what I'm hearing from back home," Sandoval said after the governors-only meeting.

Sandoval has expressed concerns about the legislation's cuts to the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled. His position is important because of the pressure he could place on Nevada's Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, a possible swing vote.

With two GOP senators already opposed to the legislation, one more "no" vote would kill the bill outright in a Senate divided 52-48 between Republicans and Democrats. Sandoval said "Sen. Heller's his own man" but he's trying to give him the best information about how the legislation would affect their state.

"He's the United States senator. At the end of the day, he's the one who pushes the button," Sandoval said. "I'm going to inform him about how I feel about the bill."

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said the mood at the Saturday breakfast meeting was "tense" and "there are a lot of Republican governors who apparently have a neck problem, because they were all looking down."

Malloy added that a few Republican governors did ask questions. Others said they raised their concerns to the White House in one-on-one meetings.

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker said he had an "extensive meeting" Friday with Pence and Price and "we're hopeful they're going to get to a point where they're going to have a repeal-and-replace that works." Walker declined to say if he supports the current version.

"I haven't read through it all yet so I've still got to look at it," Walker said. "It just came out yesterday."

Participants said the meeting with governors included an appeal from Democratic Delaware U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, who is a former governor, asking the Trump administration to put the debate on hold and look for a bipartisan solution.

The conference's host, Rhode Island Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, said she didn't think anyone's mind was changed.

"If the federal government is trying to save hundreds of billions of dollars, the money's got to come from somewhere, and it either means it's coming from taking health insurance away from people who are now insured under the Medicaid expansion, or it means shifting the financial burden to the states," she said. "Either way, that's bad for Rhode Island and bad for many of the states whose governors were represented at that meeting."

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